FKA twigs With Boots Trees, Dallas Friday, November 28, 2014
Some see FKA twigs as the savior of R&B. At the very least, some kind of futurist shape of the genre. Others see her as simply a revamp of trip hop, an anachronistic innovation come full circle. And at least one overly exuberant critic has deemed Twigs "the next Kate Bush." Publications, fandom, the ever-churning hype machine: All paint Twigs as a weird, avant-pop auteur, a figure capable of fulfilling the promise of strangeness that other pop stars only hint at in their fashion choices, but fail to translate into their own art.
However, the experience of seeing her live in Dallas at Trees on Friday, or even just a few listens to Twigs' music, gives the lie to this notion. This isn't experimental music, or edge-seeking radicalism. It's pop, pure and simple. Credit the artist for never giving credence to the cursory aesthetic assumptions hurled upon her.
Twigs approaches pop with an emphasis on deconstruction, silence and stark contrasts. Hers is a music of few elements, minimal in a spidery, staccato way, with each component cleaved to sound like marble or glass. It's astonishing, really, how her tracks recycle the bones of one another.
In fact, at a distance, they all appear to be assembled from the same lot of colors, ranges and effects: A slather of reverb here, a sluggish breakdown there, filled out with skittering drum machines and watery synth lines. From a strictly sonic perspective, the result of this sparsity is an astonishing transparency of structure. Of course, once Twigs enters into the equation, things get more interesting.
And enter she does.
To a deafening blare of cheers, from behind a haze of blue, FKA twigs emerges. Bathed in a machinery of soft, inhuman light, she begins a performance that validates her inclusion in all discussions of important contemporary musicians. With her wormy contortions, Twigs exploits each angle of the Trees' stage, looking every bit the surreal projection she embodies on video. Her demeanor is unblinking, seamless. She moves like she has oil for blood, joints of rubber.
Born Tahliah Barnett in rural South West England, Twigs began her career as a dancer, supporting herself mostly by way of backup appearances in other artists' music videos. It's evident from her performance tonight that she's retained that mode of professional distance, the art of theatre and role-playing.
Twigs is an island, she's just a few feet away from her rapt audience, but she might as well be miles removed from all of us. If her music is about any one thing, it's this: displacement. Fortunately, her manner of expression is as accessible as it is sensually complex. It's in her drugged-down tales of longing that her art blooms most fully. Here's where the R&B comparisons make the most sense. In FKA twigs, R&B finds an eccentric, modern container, one more successful at imparting the genre's pained romanticism in our post-idealistic age.