FKA twigs' High-Concept Approach Elevates the Mixtape on 'CAPRISONGS'

BY Noah CiubotaruPublished Jan 17, 2022

FKA twigs has been known to fashion herself into an art object. She was the focus of protracted closeups in her earliest music videos, calling upon the viewer to contemplate patiently and carefully. The simmering intensity of the visuals mirrored the music: languorous vocals that could swell and shatter along with daring electronic arrangements, an ecstatic seesaw of tension and release.

For her 2019 masterpiece, Magdalene, twigs ditched the aesthetic that initially rendered her a sort of digital avatar and, instead, framed herself as a classical painting. That album's cover depicts her from the shoulders up, possessing hints of surreal features, and in an accompanying piece, brushstrokes seem to be layered over a full-bodied statue, one that's inflated with mountainous muscles. The similarly warped proportions of Ancient Greek sculpture connoted self-mastery and trained athleticism, virtues apparent in FKA twigs' history of retreating and returning with new skills. The Magdalene era began with the release of the stunning "cellophane," complemented by an equally stunning video in which twigs revealed that she had conquered the art of pole dancing. The next trick up her sleeve was a sword, brandished in the "sad day" video as well as onstage during live performances, after her penchant for astounding feats of discipline led her to wushu.

In the eyes of an artist drawn to high concept and self-imposed constraints, the open terrain of the mixtape could present itself as another hill to climb. How might FKA twigs put down her sword and surrender to the informality of this medium?

In terms of approach, a distinction could be noted within the first 10 seconds of CAPRISONGS' opening track, "ride the dragon." In the gentle coo of her speaking voice, twigs addresses the listener, telling them that she made a mixtape for them, as if extending a tangible object into a distinct pair of hands. This barrier had never been broken down in her work; it was crucial to the construction of FKA twigs that whatever whittling occurred to arrive at something new and pristine remained invisible to the audience. But this time, that process is on full display, unfolding in the music.

CAPRISONGS is stitched together by recordings of twigs' friends, who are unveiled to be a significant force (if not the most significant) driving her latest transformation. At the outset of "meta angel" — the project's offering that most closely resembles the dazzling slow-burns twigs is known to expertly command — she confides in them that she aspires to be less timid, and is met with responses that both lift her up and lovingly make fun of her earnestness, a fitting introduction to a song about incinerating one's ego. Ironically, the empowering messages that enabled twigs to let loose and pursue the structureless endeavour of creating a mixtape ended up providing its unifying thread.

Like the presence of friends, openness to musical collaborators seems vital to the ethos of this project. To be about de-centering the self and invigorating our fading memory of what it feels like to gather, other people are needed, populating the mix if not the shared physical space of a studio, party or club. Principal collaborator and executive producer El Guincho excels at summoning the desired sensation with thrumming, sweating production that invites twigs to play with her punchiest delivery to date. She seizes the opportunity to talk her shit on "honda," carving out rap cadences alongside Pa Salieu, who contributes a perfect, pithy verse. Like "honda," the tape's most consuming tracks ("ride the dragon," "tears in the club," "oh my love") strike a balance between atmospheric and carnal, potently reflected in the moments when twigs stretches her lithe harmonies across an airy expanse before snapping back into the bounce of a beat. Jorja Smith and Unknown T assist in scattering biographical morsels across the melancholic UK drill of "darjeeling," mapping out an ode to their hometowns and past selves.

"pamplemousse" and "which way" serve as the purest evidence of the freedom achieved on this mixtape. These experimental sketches are delightful in their rejection of seriousness. On the former, twigs skips around a skittering instrumental, simulating the tease of online thirsting before a fan interrupts with a request for twigs to release an official version of her leaked collaboration with Dua Lipa. CAPRISONGS' more frivolous wanderings are offset by twigs pausing elsewhere to confront herself. "Did you give yourself away again?" she asks on "lightbeamers." What might have led one to do so, or any related regret that might be lingering, is irrelevant here. "Don't do it again" is the simple reminder that reverberates after that question, like a mantra, as twigs slides between different registers, channeling a whole chorus of affirmations imparted by the people around her.

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