Release Date: Aug 14, 2015
Record label: Young Turks
Genre(s): Alternative R&B
LP1 was terrific. It was majestic. It was spellbinding. It was truly androgynous. It may have been too outlandish and inaccessible for some, but that is what made FKA twigs debut album so enchanting. It didn’t feel conventional; yet the album was more attractive because it was abnormal. Almost a ….
Honestly, why are you reading this? Do you think that some dork like a DiS writer can tell you what to think about FKA Twigs, a siren among mere mortals? I say 'siren', because on FKA’s rocky shores, desire always leads to unseen harm. With both voice and body she invites her audience to look – and while the fixed gaze could break a weaker mind, she turns it round and stabs deeper. For all its decay-drenched flourishes, though, LP1 strayed no further than the hotel room; on this EP, she taunts from the catwalk, before a million prying eyes, and she’s got every one of ‘em on their knees.
In "Papi Pacify", the video that introduced FKA twigs to the wider world, the British pop star stares into the camera as a man (a lover, it should be said) pries his fingers into her gaping mouth. The hook is a moan: "Mmm, papi pacify." The lyrics are about the tension of desire, but the mise en scene is power. On the cover of her third EP M3LL155X, twigs echoes this gesture, staring at us as her own hand merges into her face.
It’s an interesting statement on musical evolution that today’s mainstream pop often sounds identical to the experimental noise bands on those cassettes I used to order in junior high, out of photocopied mail-order catalogues from obscure European labels. The experimental music of that era would rarely even make it onto late-night college radio; today it receives over a million YouTube hits in a week. The success of FKA twigs purports to have caught the music industry off guard, but it’s not rightly as surprising as one might think.
Less than a year ago, Tahliah Barnett transformed the set of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon into her own personal wind tunnel, ducking and weaving through a hair-raising rendition of “Two Weeks,” her most popular song as FKA twigs, while multicolored scarves danced around her. “I’ve never seen anything like that!” Fallon exclaimed. He’s also probably never seen anything like a scene in the short film accompanying her new EP, M3LL155X, which arrived as a Beyoncé-style surprise complete with stunning cinematographic accompaniment: During the clanging kiss-off “Glass & Patron,” she creeps metallic fingernails down her pregnant belly to (somewhat viciously) pull yards of flowing, rainbow-colored fabrics out of her vagina.
Since the release of last year’s ‘LP1’, FKA twigs has tried everything to establish herself as an artist working beyond the album format. Her live shows are music and dance fusions, spectacles going by the name ‘Congregata’. In July, she took over Manchester’s Granada Studios to make ‘Soundtrack 7’, where onlookers could peer in at the creative process.
Pop music is a medium concerned with the creation and projection of personas, and as a general rule, the more you know about the reality behind them, the more finite their appeal. Now that FKA Twigs’ private life is increasingly lived in the public eye (owing to her relationship with Twilight star Robert Pattinson), it’s not unreasonable to worry about the curtain being pulled back too far, to the point where she’s better known as some actor’s fiancée than the fiercely inventive pop auteur she actually is. If surprise five-track EP ’M3LL155X’ is proof of anything, however, it’s that Tahliah Barnett remains in absolute control of her music, her image and how it’s presented to the world.
The theory of the uncanny valley states that when features of an artificial entity (frequently those created in robotics or 3D animation) move and appear almost exactly like the natural entity they represent, but differ ever so slightly, it can cause observers discomfort. Think about those weird kids movies that came out in the early days of 3D animation, or robots designed to pass as humans with faces that attempt to display emotions. We laud realistic CGI and detest the stuff that reminds us we’re seeing something false.
A few years ago, I heard Junot Diaz speak. He said that the problem with a short story, as opposed to a novel, is that a short story can be perfect. Perhaps that is why artists often refuse to take their EPs seriously. Short releases—“EPs” or “mixtapes” or “demos”—are often an excuse to joke or experiment or even create entire alternate musical personalities.
For FKA twigs' latest mini-album, the follow-up to last year's excellent LP1 and 2013's EP2, the British experimental R&B artist ditched the austere labelling system and titled the surprise album M3LL155X. Apparently named after her personal female energy, Melissa, the five-song EP fittingly builds on the ideas of femininity and sex first introduced on LP1, but here twigs sounds even more poised and self-assured. On In Time, her breathy, delicate vocals - layered atop pulsating beats, purring synths and robotic flourishes - transform into the powerful as she barks, "When I'm holding you down / you be picking a fight.