The “FKA” in the name FKA Twigs stands for “Formerly Known As.” Initially, that might seem like some incredibly presumptuous, Prince-thieving shit, but it’s actually a practical change for a very mundane reason: another artist with the moniker of “Twigs” complained. That the anonymous female singer from Gloucestershire decided to quietly change the name that adorned her incredibly under-appreciated first EP in advance of the also innocuously-titled EP2 could be seen to paint the picture of an artist bereft of the ego that might have started a to-do about the name, but full of confidence that the songs stand up on their own. And they do.
2013 has seen a run of incredibly talented female artists making use of space in their compositions, from Lorde, to AlunaGeorge. EP 2 shares some nominal similarities with all of those artists, while exploring and deconstructing influences like James Blake, the Weeknd, Portishead, and Tricky. On paper, that sounds busy. But, EP producer (and Yeezus collaborator) Arca pares down these interlocking sounds with the aplomb of Jamie xx, cutting down to the skeleton of each musical phrase or idea.
The emptiness left behind makes for some beautifully jarring moments that can be lost in more complex production. On opener “How’s That”, it’s only a barely perceptible chord change that heralds in the aggressively mixed wood block bursts and overdriven snare blasts of the de facto chorus. Finale “Ultraviolet” disintegrates into melismatic “Wilhelm Scream” ephemera during its first half, making it a clouds-parting revelation when Twigs re-enters at the halfway point with Van Gogh swirls of synths. Earlier, the apocalyptic emptiness of “Water Me” means that the chipmunk pitch-shifted backup vocal add spine-tingling drama to the song’s sexual narrative.
FKA Twigs’ music across the board is unabashedly sexual, but in a Liz Phair sort of way. That is to say, it’s brutally honest to the point of being occasionally uncomfortable. “Water Me” is the most straightforward example: Its repeated verses include the line “he told me I was so small/ I told him water me,” which while it seems to come from a place of desire, also implies a power dynamic that might be sinister in nature. The refrain of “Papi Pacify” is “let me pacify you,” which paints a picture of sex as control in a way mutually accepted by both parties, but the music’s rhythmic uncertainty reminds of how problematic that view of sex can be.
EPs are always intriguing works. Their brevity allows an artist to be unrepetently harsh in their self-editing, putting forward only their absolute best work. For two consecutive EPs, FKA Twigs has crafted a distinguished and distinguishable sound, and a keen ear for how her plaintive, yet powerful voice works in the spaces of her productions, delivering a total of eight excellent tracks; The four songs on EP2 further brighten the prospects of this talented 25-year-old.
Essential Tracks: “Papi Pacify”, “Water Me”, and “How’s That”