On its surface, LP1, the debut full-length from British singer FKA twigs, is an album about fucking. Its songs are full of whispered come-ons and percussive, petit-mort vocalizing — but that allusion to intimacy masks the album’s unsettling center; while LP1 sounds like never-leaving-the-bed fantasia, it spends much of its time in the chasm between fantasy and reality. LP1 is an album that speaks to the modern condition, poking at the illusion of connection generated by constant connectivity and wondering: How do you get beyond being two people alone, together? Can real life ever live up to what happens in your head?
There’s a lot of trying on LP1 and almost no triumph. There’s also no consummation (save for the line “I could kiss you for hours” on “Hours”), and song after song revisits the theme of isolation. “Pendulum”‘s protagonist is “so lonely/ trying to be yours”; On “Number,” “I’m lonely baby, I’m lonely babe.” On “Closer,” twigs recalls, “All those years in/ isolation,” pining for connection as the dream fails to sustain. The production reflects this: Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die), who produced the bulk of the record, has a particular way with a fixed emotional loop. Songs vamp, but never gain traction — all longing, no climax. It’s tense, tentative pop that simulates the airlessness of solitude.
Its first single, “Two Weeks,” is equal parts sinewy boom and sensual vengeance. The song is intended to draw a not-yet lover out of another woman’s arms and into twigs’ bed, (The line “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in” makes that point clear). Spitting filthy game, twigs vows, “I can fuck you better than she can,” guaranteeing that after two weeks of it, her intended won’t even remember that other girl. And yet the entire song takes place not inside a club, but inside her head. She’s “higher than a mother fucka/ dreaming of you as my lova.”
LP1 dives repeatedly into that unsure space — the space between two people, between control and vulnerability, between desire and rapture. “Lights On” depicts a particularly fraught encounter, where promises of an all-night-long connection are banked as an incentive to stick around for something better. With in-the-moment breathlessness, twigs pants, “When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on” and, “When I trust you, we’ll make love until the morning/ let me tell you all my secrets in a whisper ’til the day’s done.” The song turns on those “light” and “dark” metaphors — the dark is her mind, it’s hiding, it’s safe. In the light she’s vulnerable, challenging “break or seize me,” acknowledging the equal likelihood of both. The record jabs at this notion: How do you reconcile all that coursing, corporeal lust in the bedside lamplight, when the imperfect reality punctures the purity of the fantasy?
FKA twigs’ videos provide an additional, extra-textual framing for her work. They often focus on bodies; scenes are fractured into short, .gif-like sequences that point to a sexual life lived in the digital era. In “Papi Pacify,” we see twigs smiling for the camera, looking at us directly and knowingly as she caresses the hands of a man who grips her neck from behind, then inserts his fingers into her mouth. Context is elusive: Is this dancing? Porn? Violence? In an age where everything seems knowable, FKA twigs presents a mystery.
Unlike both Lana Del Rey and Beyonce, pop artists whose self-aware work orients around being watched, FKA twigs’ videos seem to be about derailing perfection, mucking up our understanding of how this is supposed to work, playing with our confusion. All we’re given is whatever truth we can tease out from the way her gaze is fixed on the camera — the way it sometimes meets ours like a dare, and is sometimes (as it is on the album’s cover) so flat she seems unreal — beautiful, dead-eyed — plastic.
Ultimately, what twigs is doing is leading us away from the more familiar feelings that pop music ignites in us — guiding us to a place where dreams never really deliver — where we’re no longer thinking about what it’s like to be the pop singer, or what it’s like to fuck the pop singer (pop’s default dichotomy). Instead, it’s a place where anticipation has begun to curdle into desperation, where “tonight” feels like forever in the worst way, and where all the heavy-breathing only leads to a nagging question: “How close can we really be?” FKA twigs has given us a very sexy album about the absence of sex, and about the tenacity and uncertainty of longing. Rather than turning us on, it illuminates the grotesque vastness of our own need; LP1 drives us to examine the depths of our desires, and refuses to ever satisfy us.