The track, Cellophane, is available via:
24th April, 2019
Young Turks Recordings Ltd
ON this time out...
I am investigating FKA twigs’ new song and, with it, there is a lot to talk about. I wanted to discuss looking away from the mainstream and embracing something less obvious; artists who can create songs that stand you to attention and are unlike anything else; a look back at women in music and whether now is the time action is taken regarding equality; a bit about making a big return and how to do it so excitement and intrigue are created; a little about why 2019 is so ripe and productive – I will end by looking ahead at FKA twigs’ future and what it might hold. There are some, myself included, who feel that what is currently deemed popular and mainstream is not nearly as strong as the sort of stuff I grew up on. I am not being biased or subjective but, listen back a couple of decades or so, and we were treated to a much broader palette and far greater excitement. Just yesterday, I was waxing lyrical about Deee-Lite’s 1990 smash, Groove Is in the Heart, and how happy, positive and immediate that song was. It has lasted through the years and still provides that sense of rush and joy. I am not suggesting today’s music is devoid of pleasure but it seems, when you look at the top, there is not the same kind of positivity, range and quality. Maybe it is a sign of over-compression and crowding but it is getting harder and harder to detect any real scene; any sort of big surge or explosion that gets under the skin. I tend to find the biggest artists are okay and can produce some good music but they do not stay in the mind and there is not that same interest and strength I was exposed to as a youngster. I am, of course, excluding FKA twigs from this assessment because she seems to occupy her own space. It is like she can see what the mainstream needs and is preparing an assault.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chad Kirkland
Of course, the dominance of Pop and something rather bland will never shift but I am looking away from the mainstream and finding artists who have their own skin and something more interesting to say. There is definitely something different about FKA twigs. In fact, a lot of the best music this year has been made by artists operating outside of the norm; a sort of exclusive club that does not really touch those commercial markets. I think charts, streaming services and minds should be trained to the outskirts and the artists creating something more compelling. FKA twigs released her debut album, LP1, in 2014 and there is a big anticipation regarding a new album. I want to quote from an interview FKA twigs gave to The Guardian in 2014; to show what an impression she made at the very start:
“The 26-year-old is a songwriter whose provocative debut album, LP1, was relished by critics on release in August, Twigs compared to lions like Kate Bush and Prince and immediately nominated for the Mercury prize. She’s a veteran dancer who has skulked and body-rolled through a string of hypnotic videos – most self-directed, distinctive enough to land her a commission to make a recent ad for Google. Wild haired, eccentrically dressed, she is also closely watched for her fashion and grooming choices. When I join her in the back of a New York taxi, hours before a gig in the city, she’s in this mode, wardrobe-department mode, bent double over her smartphone and composing a list”.
Why all the white, I ask? Is there some secret significance? Twigs is one of those artists, a St Vincent, a Lykke Li, a Björk – sure, why not, a Prince – who fog both their music and their public identities with mystery, plenty suggested but little said, blanks left for an audience to fill in. It’s easy to start reading hidden meaning everywhere: in Twigs’s album-closing track Kicks, for instance, which might be about personal empowerment or might be about masturbation. Or in the video for last year’s single Water Me, which seized on the most arresting thing about her appearance – large, far-set eyes – and digitally distorted them as if calling the viewer out for noticing the eyes at all.
I wanted to source those passages as you get a sense of who she is and why her music does not exactly stand alongside the big Pop artists and the normal. FKA twigs, in the interview, stated how she was not in the world to appeal to those who wanted something orthodox:
“I’m appealing to people who want something different,” she says, “but the world, on the whole, doesn’t really embrace different things. Not on the whole”.
PHOTO CREDIT: REX
Cellophane is new from FKA twigs and, as you’d suspect, there is a great deal of excitement and chatter. She has released other music since her 2014 debut but it seems like we are heading towards a new album. I will try and unpick her latest song but, right from the start, you know it is not like anything else. It is hard to describe but it takes you in different directions and has all these blends and different moods together. Some reviewers have tried to get to the bottom of the song and it is hard to do. What makes Cellophane so great is the fact that it is accessible and okay. You do not feel isolated and confused at any time: in fact, the track gets right into the heart and you’ll want to listen to it again and again. I do love what FKA twigs is doing at the moment and I think, since 2014, she has added new elements into her music. I mentioned the mainstream and how predictable it can all be. Occasionally, you get a bit of a shock but that is very rare. There is so much build and hype when you get a big artist coming along and they release this song that is not all that great. Take, for instance, Taylor Swift – someone who has produced some great music but carries around a lot of support and expectation. She has a new song, ME!, and there have been articles written about it. One such review/article studied the song and reacts to other people’s views about it:
“It may be an acquired taste – critics awake to greet its midnight EST/5am BST release have compared it unfavourably to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling, from the animated film Trolls – but it works as a defiant reassertion of Swift’s positive brand”.
I think there is all of this attention and desire for artists who produce something quite ordinary. Maybe more experimental music is challenging and we all want music that is uncomplicated.
There are those out there who refute the pull of the mainstream and find that artists like FKA twigs are making something far more interesting. Her current tracks is light years away from the ordinary and, instead, you are free to swim in its visions and inhabit this very safe is vivid world. One gets moments of intensity and shock but, for the most part, the mood is quite welcoming and the song leaves some questions. You go back in and try and approach Cellophane from different angles. The more you engross yourself in this magical thing and let it wash over you, the more you ask why music cannot be like this everywhere. I think there is a general lack of music that pushes boundaries, buttons and the imagination. Artists such as FKA twigs are quite rare and I feel like her ‘return’ is a great treat. What is it, then, about the mainstream that fosters a real lack of spark? I hate returning to this subject – and comparing music now with stuff back in the 1980s and 1990s – but it does seem like there is this quagmire and limitation. Maybe the market wants songs that are quite processed, straight and do not really take much thought. If we are to encourage music to grow and give future artists that rush of hope, we need to stop promoting and relying heavily on music that is unchallenging and quite sterile. Maybe the likes of FKA twigs are not your usual cup of tea but they are a lot deeper, interesting and nuanced than anything considered commercial and chart-bound. Maybe I am grousing too much but I think that, as I will discuss in a second, fantastic artists like FKA twigs will struggle to get the same attention and backing as the mainstream’s best. I feel that, this year especially, women have been at the top of the tree and producing music beyond anything else. Is it time, in 2019, to start taking action regarding the climate change in music?!
By that, I mean women, in an odd way, seem to represent all the nature, beauty and stability of the musical Earth and, more and more, they are being eroded, overlooked and abused by ignorance and selfishness. Think about all the festivals this year and how few women have been booked – let alone the extreme lack of women headlining! This is a subject that I return to again and again – and will do later this weekend – but this year has been about female-made music. Look at all the biggest albums and, for the most part, they have been made by women. Aside from some treats from the men, the biggest, most striking and memorable music has been created by women. Maybe last year was a bit more balanced in terms of the best albums (gender-wise) but this year is another affair altogether! I am not sure what has caused this shift but it seems like women in music know they are being overlooked and not given the same opportunities as men. As such, the very best and brightest have struck and it seems like the industry needs to respond in kind. FKA twigs is yet another female in music who is going beyond the expected and doing something fantastic. I do hope that she’ll get festival headline bookings next year. There are other artists – countless, in fact – who could take to the biggest stages and produce a really wonderful headline set. It annoys me that, if music is a meritocracy, women are being shunned needlessly. That is what music should be at the least: the rewards go to those who deliver the best music. I know FKA twigs will, when another album is out, get big bookings but it seems that pledges made by the bosses and festival organisers are happening too late. The past few months has seen this incredible wave of music made by incredible women. One might argue that, in terms of festival bookings, it is impossible to do anything about it this year. Can one realistically see equality happening in 2020?
The irony with 2020 is the fact that organisers will be very short-sighted and ignore all the greatness arriving this year. Look at albums from the likes of Lizzo and Julia Jacklin and I wonder whether we will see more women headlining festivals in 2020. I think that FKA twigs represents the innovation and boldness that we are not necessarily getting from men. Not to stereotype but I feel women are more interesting in interviews and have a lot more passion regarding change and big issues in society. There are bands and male artists that tackle the big subjects but, to me, women are bolder and go a lot deeper. The music is stronger and I do feel like, for some reason, they get ignored and put aside. I do wonder what is holding back progress and whether it will ever truly happen. Maybe I am getting off the track here and further away from FKA twigs but her music is in my mind right now and I would like to see it respected. There is so much love for her out there and I do hope that there are festival bookings and respect coming her way. In any case, music has a big problem and there seems to be no immediate resolution in sight. I listen to a song like Cellophane and salivate regarding the possible future. There are no firm announcements regarding an FKA twigs album but one feels that, if she puts out more songs like this, it will be another year-defining album. Here is an artist that, in 2014, created shockwaves and announced herself as an original. Naturally, people were quick to compare her to other artists – Kate Bush was one name kicked about – but that would be unfair. FKA twigs is this otherworldly and unique talent that deserves a lot of love and respect. I shall move on to the song in a second but will briefly squeeze in some thoughts regarding big returns and the publicity they court.
FKA twigs has, as I said, being putting out music since her 2014 debut but we have not heard too much lately. She has been busy working and living her life but it seems like she is back in a productive groove. This year has been extraordinary for music and we have seen so much quality come through. I think, against the backdrop of political tension and division, artists are upping their game and music, in some ways, is an escape. There is more competition now than last year so the effort and sense of experimentation is greater. 2019 has been a great year and I think we can owe that to a need (artists have) to create something wonderful and enriching. Maybe the mainstream falls outside of this praise but there are so many artists who are getting us excited. One of the biggest impressions made this year happened only last week. Madonna put out a new track, Medellin, and it is her first song in quite a while. Her album, Madame X, comes out in June and there is so much expectation and hype around it. Madonna has always received this sort of acclaim and backing but it seems like the sense of tease has been going on forever. There have been endless Twitter and Instagram posts; a lot of cryptic posts and this sense that her music is theatre and something world-changing. I am a big fan of her but she knows how to drag stuff out and generate this big sense of anticipation. Conversely, FKA twigs is making a bit of a return and has done so in a more routine and civilised manner. The single is out there and, rather than provide all these clues and posts regarding possible album material, she is focusing on Cellophane and what it can do. I love the fact that she can remain composed and focused despite the fact her music is getting people very excited. It is wonderful that we have FKA twigs in the world and I do think that this year will be a big one for her. I should talk about the star of the moment: the exceptional and divine Cellophane. It is a song that, once heard, will not be forgotten in a hurry!
Even though the song gets hotter and heavier, the start of Cellophane is delicate and stirring. The heroine talks about a sense of regret and lack of satisfaction. It seems the hero is not doing it for her and there is an imbalance happening. Maybe there is a problem in a relationship and it is a hard one to reconcile. Those who know FKA twigs’ work will state how unpredictable it can be so, in these early stages, I was not assuming this would be a straight-out ballad. Instead, we have a song that sets the scene and casts the heroine in a very soft light. There are troubles in her heart but I have not heard FKA twigs quite as composed and tender as this. She sort of beckons you in and asks these questions. I think about the song’s title, Cellophane, and it reminds me of something Joni Mitchell said around the time of Blue (1971). She compared herself to wrapping on a cigarette packet. In a sense, she was exposed and vulnerable and this image definitely seemed apt and striking. I was thinking this when listening to FKA twigs’ new song and how open she sounds. Maybe she did draw inspiration from Mitchell but, in any case, there is ample emotion in the first minute or so. With some woozy electronics and piano giving the song a sense of imbalance and stumble, FKA twigs lays her heart out there. She does not want to share her love and she gets overwhelmed. Without being cynical, we have a song that is as emotive and sensitive as anything she has ever produced. The music starts to swell in the background as the heroine talks about getting wrapped up in the feelings she has. Breathy, stuttering and gorgeous, this is one of the more composed tracks from FKA twigs. I have talked about how she adds darkness, energy and the unexpected alongside something more restrained.
Whereas her earlier work has sported some bigger beats and greater rush, a lot of the twists and heavier elements are suggested and more demure. I have spoken about the originality of the song and how artists like FKA twigs is unlike anyone around. Some might say that Cellophane is, by her standards, quite conventional and can be matched by anyone else out there. I would refute this and, as I listen more and more, there is a sense of unease and hidden malice that lingers in the background. The way her breaking and emotive performance sits with the composition amazes me. One detects a feeling or staggering and emotional confusion through the composition. You get a sense our heroine is looking for answers. I also wondered whether, coming away from the song, there was this feeling of togetherness or loss. It is clear there are outside forces who want to cast aspersions and separate the sweethearts but one feels a real longing and outpouring from FKA twigs. One of the boldest and most remarkable aspects of Cellophane is that it has a level head. Some might have been expecting a wild, wired and strange song with tribal beats, jagged electronics and distorted voices. Instead, here is something gentler. It is the lack of attack and the expected that makes Cellophane so compelling. FKA twigs has shown that she can step in different directions and is impossible to predict. I have not heard anything like Cellophane and it is kind of hard to put into words. Maybe I am hearing too much or letting my imagination get the better of me but it is almost like an illusion. On the surface, the song seems to be about desire and a sense of loss but, the closer you look, there are elements lingering beneath the surface. A sense of uneasiness and impending breakdown awaits; a feeling that there is more than meets the eye.
I keep coming back to that feeling that Joni Mitchell’s cigarette packet image is in the mind of FKA twigs. This makes me curious whether we might see something more Mitchell-like on the next album. Lead singles can be a bit of a red herring so, if there are more songs coming, they might take us back in more expected FKA twigs territory. I started the review by saying that Cellophane gets hotter as time goes on and, by that, there is implication and suggestion. FKA twigs has been more explicit and bold regarding the strange in other songs but, here, her performance is stunning and pure. I sense all of her older elements and sounds compacted into this sort of eerie and quiet space in the background. Maybe I am looking too closely but that is the wonder of FKA twigs. You never truly know what she will bring us and Cellophane is a classic example! I hope there is more coming from her and who knows what future songs will sound like. Maybe she will give us more LP1-sounding songs or we might be seeing a new direction from her. Away from all the routine and lack of wonder from the mainstream, artists like FKA twigs provide an alternative. I love what she did back in 2014 but I can tell she has evolved and broadened her sound. I am excited to see what comes next and where she might head. Cellophane has received great applause and positivity. It is a wonderful song and one that will stay in your head a long time after you hear it. If Madonna’s return to music has been met with a lot of circus and explosion, FKA twigs’ venture is much more composed and quiet. Maybe it is the start of a big explosion but I feel like there is something brewing. 2019 has been a great year for music and, with FKA twigs bringing us this magnificent song, it seems like there is no end in sight.
FKA twigs has sprinkled some E.P.s and singles since 2014 but I do feel that we are going to hear a new album pretty soon. Some might say her rate of productivity is quite low but when you listen to the music then you realise where the time is going. So many artists rush stuff and there is that pressure to get music out all of the time. That can lead to something rather flat and ordinary and, when there is less burden, artists are free to fly and expand. I know that there are plans in the FKA twigs camp and it will all be hotting up very soon. NME have reported news that FKA twigs is planning some tour dates:
“FKA Twigs has announced a comeback show in London next month as part of a series of gigs which will take place in various cities across the world.
Twigs now plans to return to touring, with shows in London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Berlin and Hobart all being announced today (April 25). In her native UK, Twigs will perform a one-off show at London’s Alexandra Palace Theatre on May 28”.
I am not sure whether an album will arrive before she starts her gigs but it does appear that she is getting ready to take the next step. If you have not heard Cellophane then make sure you get on it and let it take you away! It is a wonderful song that envelops you but it never attacks. It is so busy and full but there is space to be found. All of these elements remain in the brain and you come away from listening feeling better. That might sound strange but truly great songs have that ability. Let’s hope that there is much of this gold around the corner. I have been a fan of FKA twigs since the start and she has grown as an artist. Her music was always captivating but it has grown even stronger since the start. 2019 is very much a year defined by women so it is no surprise that FKA twigs’ latest track should cause ripples. This all brings me back to my argument and problem regarding festivals and general inequality. I do think it is time to take action and ask some very big questions. If we allow this imbalance to happen then it will create problems in the future. Women in music are leading a charge and it would be foolish to deny them. I shall leave my anger aside (for now) and suggest that everyone embraces new genius…
FROM the beguiling FKA twigs.
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