FKA twigs recently used Instagram to portray their Caprisongs mixtape as a soundtrack to get ready to go out: “It’s suntan lotion by the sink, alcopop next door … a pregame club … your best friend who’s always late but brings what better to a party. “
This is not a description that would fit most of Tahliah Barnett’s work; To date, it has largely dealt with darkness and heartache. But where 2019’s Magdalene appeared in a sleeve showing concerned-looking twigs, her eerily distorted face, on the cover of Caprisongs, the first thing she released since accusing her ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf of abuse (allegations he denies), she is clad in sparkling jewelry, lowering her lower lip to reveal the acronym GOAT (the greatest of all time) written on her teeth. Your content follows suit.
Twigs herself sounds different – the shaky RP voice she deployed during Magdalene is largely gone, though she briefly reappears during Minds of Men. It is replaced by something with roots in its South London foster home, a better choice for lyrics with more obvious roots in hip-hop and R&B than before, the delivery frequently influenced by the fast-paced streams of rap triplets. There is a remarkable new vitality to the musical approach: “Falling in love again, but this time with the music and myself,” as he put it on Instagram, in what reads as a response to the anguish of his emotional life.
FKA twigs’ desire to present themselves differently at Caprisongs goes far beyond visual and vocal tics. For all of Magdalene’s heartbreaking, which unraveled the collapse of her relationship with actor Robert Pattinson and the often racist and sexist frenzy it spawned on social media, there was a certain unattainable quality left in Twigs itself, with its elaborate videos, the deformation of his face on album covers and his live shows packed with demonstrations of his mastery of tap dancing and sword-based kung fu. Even when she sang about heartbreak, she seemed like an artist clinging to the notion that pop stars should be weird and supernatural, not mere reflections of their audience.
Caprisongs, however, presents her in a more prosaic light: as your partner, not as a mystery. Like Heaux Tales, Jazmine Sullivan’s 2021 critics’ favorite, and indeed Adele’s 30, features intimate voice memo recordings: of twigs complaining about an ex’s behavior and discussing their insecurities; his astrologer, talking a lot about old shoemakers; and his friends and collaborators, some of whom attempt to pluck twigs (“I wish you could see in you what I can see in you”), and some of whom expound their occasionally confusing personal philosophies. “I’m one of a kind, well people like me are one of a kind,” says rapper Pa Salieu.
The album represents an intriguing change in a climate where pop stars who adopt characters then stick with them for decades, never breaking character: there are no Bowie-style shapeshifts for Lana Del Rey or The Weeknd, who featured here on Tears in the Club. . But, in one way at least, Caprisongs resembles its predecessor. The music and production are wildly inventive, as always with twigs, although this time more clearly tied to rhythms that are inspired by trap, drum’n’bass and, in Papi Bones, dancehall. Sounds flow in and out of the mix, tracks often feel like one-way trips, ending in a completely different place than where they started. Brilliant ideas abound: the dramatic jump changes of Honda’s backrest; the wildly chopped harp samples in Darjeeling that sound like your internet connection is charging; a sudden explosion of stacked harmonies and white noise midway through Ride the Dragon. If you’re going to use AutoTune, you could also do it just as imaginatively as it does on Pamplemousse, constantly changing the pitch and texture of your voice.
But, as with Magdalene, you are often unavoidably aware that the songwriting in the center of Caprisongs is poorly done. There’s really good stuff here: Darjeeling brilliantly interpolates a snippet from Olive’s You’re Not Alone to underline the song’s portrayal of London as a place so diverse that anyone can feel at home; Oh My Love has a nice melody; you wonder if the popularity of Tears in the Club has less to do with its special guest star than its really strong melody. But more often, Caprisongs settle for the fragmentary: scattered fragments of melodic ideas that could have been further developed, melodies struggling to cut through the sonic tumult that surrounds them. Beams of light are as difficult to capture as smoke; The mosaic of bassline, chants, and fluttering voices on Which Way feels like you’re rambling, even though it’s barely two minutes long.
There are many commendable things in Caprisongs. No less important is your desire to keep moving and changing, enough that complaining about something as simple as the dearth of memorable melodies almost feels miserable. But equally, it is something that ultimately prevents you from enjoying the album. As a soundtrack to the beginning of a night, it doesn’t work as one might expect.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism