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The sheer elegance of Tahliah Debrett Barnett’s dancing skills have, up until this point, frequently eclipsed her voice. Barnett, who performs under the name FKA Twigs, uses her body to communicate in ways that most of us can only dream of. A breakout video for the artist, “Water Me,” used Twigs’ face like a puppet, with giant, oversized eyes blinking in a tightly shrunken face, her expression conveying more in those blinks, or the slight curl of her lip, than in the timbre of her voice. Her vocals were exquisite, but her body kept score. In the clip, she describes a distanced lover, who tells her she is “so small.” Her rebuttal? Water me.
In subsequent videos, her body was showcased in the consensual BDSM of “Papi Pacify,” the faux pregnancy and woodland voguing of “Glass & Patron,” and, most notably, the absolutely arresting pole dancing that dominates her 2019 single, “Cellophane.” It wasn’t that the music on Twigs’ glitchy debut, LP1, or its very formal, very sad follow-up, Magdalene wasn’t excellent, it always was, but there was a sense of remove in her songs even when the lyrics reveled in vulnerability. That entire dynamic has flipped on Caprisongs, a brand new full-length release from Twigs, who has frequently used shorter EP style releases when she wasn’t in album mode instead of the more casual mixtape style.
On her first mixtape, Caprisongs (a play on her astrological sign, Capricorn), she reveals a side that fans have rarely seen. Listeners have known Twigs, the creative perfectionist with an inferiority complex, on Caprisongs they meet Twigs the Capricorn, Twigs the giggly friend, Twigs the “rockstar girlfriend.” (“I’m not the rockstar’s girlfriend, I’m the rockstar girlfriend, do y’know what I mean?” she asserts, during one conversation snippet.) Created in the timeframe directly following her choice to go public with the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse she received at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Shia LaBeouf, the tape is a decidedly communal offering. Like many other trauma survivors, Twigs is taking comfort in finding support in others, letting shared experience stand-in for the specifics of her own life. But snippets of dialogue with friends and collaborators, and a more relaxed, linear style in the songwriting gives a deeper look into Twigs’ psyche than her past work.
Kicking off with the bodacious “Ride The Dragon,” the “Water Me” narrative has reversed; no longer is Twigs the rejected woman, not good enough for her unrequited crush, but she’s a confident, sex-positive partner: “Really wanna kiss me? Kiss me, Do it quickly, do it,” she demands. In an interview with Variety, Barnett described her past projects as touching on “personal, very specific things,” and this new tape as something she created with others in mind. “I think it was the first time as an artist that I felt the desire to create something for other people,” she explained. “It would be naïve to believe that it made them feel better… but I did want to provide truth, honesty, light and joy to people, to remind them what we had, and are grateful for.”
That lightness and joy comes through in spades on songs like “Meta Angel,” where Twigs uses cathedral vocals during a quest for spiritual support, leaving the door open for a celestial being to fly through. On a track like “Oh My Love,” Twigs includes stories from other women about the distress they’ve experienced in relationships with men, along with uplifting monologues encouraging self-love in each other. Not every aspect is cheerful — one of the tape’s earliest singles, “Tears In The Club” with The Weeknd, is, ostensibly a song about being miserable on the dancefloor. But, in this era, it’s got enough bass to make it actually danceable — something of a departure for Twigs (or, at least, danceable enough for the rest of us non-professionals dancers out at the club).
Embracing the effortless diversity of her native London, and arguably even tapping into her father’s Jamaican roots, there’s plenty of dancehall inflections on Caprisongs, like the standout “Papi Bones,” a true celebration of the freedom of dance and what it represents. Again, anyone who has seen Twigs perform has experienced her feelings about the artform on some level, but this song lays out the subject within the accompanying monologue. Another pair of standouts, “Jealousy” and “Honda” similarly embrace a more blunt, carefree song form, mixing afrobeat and dancehall in the way that mainstream chart-toppers have recently. “Which Way,” track that sounds like early Grimes, gets into the uncertainty and disillusionment that most women who have worked in the music industry will relate to, and, as an antidote, “Lightbeamers” is a lullaby for the burnt out.
As far as Twigs’ place in a grueling industry goes, her recent signing to a US deal with Atlantic Records indicates that the visions she has for her career might’ve expanded past the disillusioned phase. Though she’s always been an under-the-radar force, if Caprisongs is an example of what’s coming next, the sky’s the limit for this artist’s appeal. “It was time for me to move on,” Twigs told Variety of the shift. “Going to Atlantic, I feel as if this could be a brilliant home for me. It’s OK for me to strive for more. That’s what Caprisongs is for me: an OK for me to learn laugh and smile.” But even on the most mainstream Twigs release, there’s still room for the avant garde. Her formerly darker production style is decidedly back for two Arca collabs: “Tears In The Club” and closer “Thank You,” where she goes as far as discussing her own suicidal ideation. The latter is a chance for her to put voice to her darkest feelings, finding hope in the act of voicing them. Building into a towering, Imogen Heap-esque electrified hymnal, this song’s blazing scope is, in itself, an argument for life.
Filled with interludes, brief, minute-thirty sonic snippets, and joyful fleets of harmonies that reappear throughout like summoned angels, the project hearkens back to a mixtape culture. Her patchwork framework lets licks, rewinds, sped-up vocals, and slurry, downtempo voices construct the emotional architecture of this song collection. And, unsurprisingly, the ethos of the whole tape can be summed up in a piece from one of the “Oh My Love” monologues, when the speaker asserts: “I love you, and I wish you could see in you what I see in you, what everyone sees in you!” before continuing: “Because that’s the golden stuff right there.” And in that sample, Twigs’ voice couldn’t be louder.
Caprisongs is out now via Atlantic Records. Get it here.
FKA Twigs is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.