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Album review: FKA twigs debut album ahead of its time

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Maybe that whole alternative R&B phase came and went too early. Maybe we should have waited for something that can actually be considered alternative to come along. Frank Ocean and Miguel are great, sure, but they are alternative only in the sense that they make better music than what we are used to hearing from mainstream R&B.

FKA twigs was late to the alternative R&B party, but forgoing labels for her music may be for the best. Because like that lyrical prophet ODB, there is no father to her style.

The woman born Tahliah Barnett, a former backup dancer in music videos for the likes of Ed Sheeran and Taio Cruz, has generated a massive amount of buzz for her debut full-length, “LP1,” released last week.

On the strength of just one EP, twigs had scored a record deal with Young Turks, an imprint of XL Recordings (also the home of Adele, Radiohead, and Vampire Weekend). A second EP brought the hype train.

Her brand of warped, atmospheric R&B won fans from all over (T-Pain said she changed his life), and her debut full-length soon became one of the most anticipated records of 2014. Thankfully, “LP1” is just as mind-bending and brilliant as those of us waiting have hoped.

“LP1” is a dance record that would only fit the mood in times or places where dancing would be completely inappropriate. It is an album about connecting with others that is best enjoyed alone. It is a sparse record that at times overflows with emotion. Despite these paradoxes, or perhaps because of them, ”LP1” comes together to form one cohesive, affecting unit.

Production was handled by twigs herself, along with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, A$AP Rocky associate Clams Casino, and Arca. Their work on the record does not exactly advance Twigs’ sound, but affirm it — minimalistic instrumentation, complex rhythms and aching vocals all come together on “LP1.”

The first words twigs sings on the album’s opening track, “Preface,” gives an idea of what is going to be covered on the next nine: “I love another/and thus I hate myself.”

The record’s first single and most straightforward track, “Two Weeks,” boasts “LP1”’s most traditional verse-chorus structure and the type of lyrical depravity that we have come to expect from The Weeknd. Except FKA Twigs executes it more casually, and therefore, better.

There is an old saying that it is not the notes, but the space between the notes that make a composition what it is. Twigs has mastered the space between the notes, giving some songs the feeling that there is no one home, taking the minimalistic ideal past where the listener thought it could go. “LP1” is not quite John Cage’s “4’33” but it has more similarities than any other pop music (If you can call it that).

“Pendulum,” the second single from the record, sounds like the soundtrack to life. Place it in almost any situation and it will fit in.

“Video Girl” covers her past as a dancer, asking “The camera on you / Ain’t that enough?”

In an interview with Pitchfork last month, Twigs said that dancing to her music was the final test on a song. “It’s the final checkpoint. I’ll make the music and then I’ll have a little dance in the studio just to see if it feels good.” Probably not coincidentally, “Video Girl” might be the most danceable song on the record.

“LP1” might be too far ahead of its time. An album that forgoes traditional verses and choruses for the most part will not have a place on the radio or find itself on the Billboard charts. Still, “LP1” feels like a record that could be pointed to in 10, 20 or 30 years as a landmark release.

She is getting her share of praise now, too; the record has received almost critical acclaim. It sounds like nothing else being made right now – twigs finds herself on the outside of the current pop monogenre.

The expectations on such an out-of-left-field artist proves that the music industry’s workings are changing all around us. Tastemakers are more important than ever, and if they keep bringing us artists like FKA twigs, then this writer has no complaints.

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