After dancing in the dark for so long, doesn’t Tahlia Barnett deserve some sunshine? Maybe sticky lips and a headrush? After Magdalene, her opus on feminine strength, life proved to be more unforgiving than ever. You are likely aware of her struggles in love, physical health and basic safety, the bravery of her public lawsuit against a man who should’ve remained in a little room with a bag over his head, the decision to articulate her own fears for the sake of other women, the shit, the pain and the pressure. Let’s not even mention him. We have her music. Time and again, Barnett, FKA Twigs, seems unassailable. This mixtape leaps with life, and sounds like an artist cleansed of shadow. Pop’s most dedicated athlete has thrown off her costume, laid down the wushu sword and unlaced her shoes. CAPRISONGS is something I was never sure Twigs could do – grin like a lunatic.
If your neck hair didn’t prickle when ‘tears in the club’ dropped last month, you may have forgotten the sheer intensity of her work to date: music that The Skinny once memorably and unbeatably described as “having sex with a ghost”; dark, glitchy ballads and distant pangs of R&B, a spectral Solange draped in the heightened performance of Bjork or Moses Sumney. Yet on this mixtape/album/who-knows-whatever’s-next, she’s partying with The Weeknd. “Listen to the rhythm and make no compromise,” she advises, shaking the memory of an ex from her body, trading verses with one of the biggest stars in the world. Their voices echo in counterpoint like they’re bouncing off the walls of a bathroom pep talk. In a masterstroke, Twigs dials her inherent ghostliness into the chorus, riding high above a thick kick drum before dropping to earth for emancipatory palpitations. “I want to get you out of my hips, my thighs / My hair, my eyes, my late-night cries.”
The track is full of rain and sweat, heights and lows. She has always used her body to exorcise demons, to reassert self-love with self-pleasure, but on CAPRISONGS, there’s a joyful sense of togetherness and play that has barely laid a foot in her material till now. One of Twigs’ fair critiques is that, for all the pomp and sensuousness and mental outfits, she comes across as an exhibit – something to admire rather than put your finger on. It’s hard to imagine going on a night out with her, although we don’t need to, and in fact could probably do with more distance from singers instead of demanding to see the inside of their recycling bins. An artist should never feel forced to be relatable. We can settle for videos of gnomic swordplay or Cleopatra on steroids.
But it appears the exhibit is covered in broken glass. “That was a whole era that had to end,” Twigs said of Magdalene last February. In an interview with The Face, she and Michaela Cole talk about the four or five songs she had ready at the time, which Cole claims she runs and cooks to. “I don’t think it does relate to Magdalene, to be honest with you,” breathes Barnett, “which comes as a bit of a relief.” She still discusses her delight with characters and “the mechanics of physicality,” yet stares in wonderment at a new dawn, an ease of creation, the thump of nights that go nowhere beyond the bar, and a willingness to let us in on her real life.
That intimacy covers CAPRISONGS like a spray of cider. ‘papi bones’ opens with hype from Movie Star Johnny, one of London’s most beloved dancehall DJs, bringing to mind small clubs in a warehouse we might never find again. Shygirl takes an strident turn on this reggaeton banger, knocking seven shades out of a track that would sound perplexing anywhere else in FKA Twigs’ catalogue. ‘oh my love’ pulls us closer into a conversation with her pal and artist, Suzzanah Pettigrew, about boys and BBQs, preempting the most casual, singalong chorus of the record. You can almost hear this bumping from an open kitchen window as you walk in and see who’s getting the sauce ready. Elsewhere, we are thrown into the middle of chatter about star signs, Dua Lipa and whether a piece of production sounds like “elevator music going to the 50th floor,” an apt description for ‘which way’, redolent of Grimes and MIA. It’s as if we’re in Twigs’ ear as she’s collaborating, vibing, trying things, clicking WAV files and inviting people over for an early listen.
Unlike, say, Lil Simz’s Sometimes I Be Introvert, the mantras and advice are rarely an issue because they’re short and spontaneous enough to seem genuine. There’s warmth baked in, even if you find the astrological stuff to be hogwash. “The universe is so . . . powerful!” exclaims one of her mates on ‘meta angel’, which really means nothing, the coy ruse of people who think a telescope is an object to point at their own navel. It only does very mild damage to a delicate plea for intervention from heaven. The vocal patchwork is something to behold, reminiscent of the layering from LP 1’s ‘Kicks’ and Kate Bush’s Aerial. When autotune enters, it’s a marvel.
Further surprises await on ‘darjeeling’, a drill-lite rap featuring Jorja Smith and Unknown T. The trio share memories of London, oscillating between tenderness and a rough edge, Twig’s “wildly haired” youth chasing lads at Crystal Palace. T gets the toast: “That London city’s my home / She loves Mayfair, come bare bleak in her toes / Build brick and the sticks, can we remake though?” A place like the UK capital never stops shedding skins, and with the example of diaspora – melting and remodelling an identity – we may discover our own strength. A setback does not define us. With Twigs & co for company, change doesn’t seem hard at all.
CAPRISONGS, in short, is an album/mixtape/okay-enough that reminds us why we need good friends, that they make us a better friend to ourselves. Like ‘careless’ urges, it’s about opening up to those who deserve the sight of you. FKA Twigs has made the audible equivalent of a therapy session that ditches the couch for a drink in your hand. By opening to us, she has welcomed a flood of possibilities about how she might sound and whether we’ll care. Happily, her sonic experimentation is undiminished. Several sections, from ‘oh my love’s palm-muted guitar to zipps and jerks amongst the violins on ‘lightbeamers’, speak of a restless spirit. I can’t wait to see where it drags us by the wrist.