Rural Gloucestershire doesn’t sound like a breeding ground for innovative electronic R&B, although one might have said that about Bristol pre Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead and Moorcheba’s Trip Hop revolution – but at least Bristol is a city. Tahliah Debrett Barnett aka, FKA Twigs (FKA standing for Formerly Known As, after another artist with the same name complained) singer/songwriter, producer and dancer has made one of the great futuristic albums of 2014 – from out of the middle of nowhere.
It’s something of a new genre, a cross between electronic music, R&B, and Bristol’s aforementioned innovators but with an atmosphere that has you checking out the shadows for enigmatic and exotic beings. Producer help comes from Venezuelan visionary, Arca (currently in the studio with Björk), Claims Casino (Lana Del Rey, Florence And The Machine) Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence And The Machine and a long, long list of diverse acts including Paul McCartney), Emile Haynie (Eminem, Lana Del Rey) Devonté Hynes (Florence And The Machine, Palo Alto Soundtrack, Blood Orange) Inc and Sampha (Drake, SBTRKT).
The opener Preface could have been written in a church with the women who gave us Le Mystère De Voix Bulgares turned into machines – it’s Sci Fi Soul.
Lights On has you wondering where their genre lines are drawn because the rules of rhythm are blatantly ignored amidst a Jazzy double bass and CAN’s Karoli guitars – other sounds seem to appear from the engine room of a UFO. And it’s here that you realise that the aliens have definitely been experimenting on her as she recalls vague amorous encounters.
The brilliant Two Weeks reminds me of sensational Swedish mystery girl, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s Fever Ray although where Andersson stays firmly chained to the darkness, Barnett levitates into the light with sensual lyrics and catchy hooks.
It’s intoxicating stuff and the next track Hours appears like the next scene from a film where the location has changed but the mood remains. It’s here that the arty drum patterns take the R&B vocal to another planet and one imagines that this new road map might allow David Sylvian a plan for his next album whereas before he was stumped.
Pendulum might have been conceptualised around the noise of a building site and it’s this visionary realisation that allows a Kate Bush vocal style to work with this beautiful hammering – it’s pure inspiration.
Video Girl combines Aaliyah with Beth Gibbons and Barbarella and along with Numbers, a legion of rogue robots from a floating city in space intent on rescuing some enticing princess from Mars. It’s music that has been influenced by Earth but definitely not made there.
Closer is back to church where the angels are real and they really do hover and sparkle in the sky above you. Back on the surface the programmers are inventing new ways to hear, adding effects to vocals, pushing up the reverb, taking it away and and completely reinventing the idea of arrangement.
Give Up adds intergalactic sequencers to this spacey maiden crying out for you, repairing you within her holographic re-enactments inside silver cities where everything is a polished white. But it’s your salvation that she is attempting to influence, penetrating your sleep, your waking hours and your very soul as she hands out a message of hope across the heaven’s to your rather normal bedroom.
The album ends with the soothing breathy Kicks and FKA Twigs wise as a seer solves the dilemma of you and diffuses dreadful reflection that music may have stopped evolving, it hasn’t, here’s the proof.