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FKA twigs

Not the most prolific of artists that’d just come out of the starting gate, considering the length of time – a painful 5 years – between her first two sets, trip-hop act FKA TWIGS was an acquired taste reminiscent of BETH GIBBONS, GRIMES or MARTINA TOPLEY-BIRD.
Born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, 16 January 1988, she focused on her fragile multi-octave vocals and otherworldly futuristic image rather than any fixation with uber-cropped selfies; that’s not to say she exploited her haunting visage on her album cover-shoots.
Hailing from Gloustershire in England; her mother a Spanish-English salsa dancer; her father Jamaican, at age 13 she abandoned ballet to sing with a scat-jazz combo; influenced as much by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, as ADAM ANT and X-RAY SPEX. Her nickname “twigs” came about through friends having noticed she could easily, but eerily, crack her bones on command. When she relocated to the capital in 2006, time was spent re-addressing her dance and vocal talent via punk posse, Delirium Tremens.
Tahliah’s first break arrived after appearing in videos for JESSIE J, ED SHEERAN, KYLIE MINOGUE, amongst others, and through her management “twigs” (as she was then billed) finally roped in a top producer in Mike Chapman. From a Bandcamp alliance she was able to see her inaugural self-financed work as a solo artist (the limited-edition 12-inch, “EP”) find a little exposure; tracks `Weak Spot’, `Ache’, `Breathe’ and `Hide’ all accompanied by a video.
2013 marked the turning point for FKA (Formerly Knows As) twigs, when she signed to Young Turks Records and released “EP2”, a more-widely distributed 12-inch that partly rested on the shoulders of Brooklyn-based producer, ARCA (Alejandro Ghersi), who’d already turned in work for KANYE WEST: namely “Yeesus”. Her sophomore EP again featured exclusive tracks (`How’s That’, `Papi Pacify’, `Water Me’ and `Ultraviolet’), and reviewers were quick to ally her sound to Bristol’s main three trip-hop acts (MASSIVE ATTACK, PORTISHEAD and TRICKY) as well as adding to the mix, the XX.
The ethereal `FKA x Inc.’ was quickly pursued by download album previews, `Two Weeks’, `Pendulum’ and `Give Up’; her excellent LP1 (2014) {*8} augmented by producers Paul Epworth, Dev Hynes, Emile Haynie and the aforesaid ARCA. If the title was simple and unassuming, her music was the other end of the spectrum – complex, ethereal and at times almost heavenly. The set was a worthy Mercury Prize nominee, while `Video Girl’ and an outtake piece, `Glass & Patron’, popped up in a short film #throughglass that October; it was later featured on the 2015 `M3LL155X’ (“Melissa”) EP that comprised songs with producer Boots. `Good To Love’ followed in February 2016, and three further fresh tracks were showcased at her Lastochka Festival appearance that July.
Whereby 2017 was conspicuous by her absence due to painful surgery for the removal of uterine fibroids, and 2018 only unveiled a guest spot on A$AP ROCKY’s “Testing” set, 2019 slowly but surely revealed three new songs, `Cellophane’, `Holy Terrain’ (her duet with FUTURE) and `Home With You’; all gaining further exposure on album two, MAGDALENE {*8}.
Now sounding as dramatic as TORI AMOS, and as liberated as BJORK; FKA TWIGS also went through a testing time via a broken relationship. SKRILLEX, Benny Blanco and Jack Antonoff were three from several producers that the classically-trained, multi-instrumentalist Tahliah worked with on the project, and with the wispy `Sad Day’, the unsettling `Mirrored Heart’ and the biblical title piece `Mary Magdalene’, the near Top 20 record seethed with pleasure… and pain.
© MC Strong/MCS Nov2019

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