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On 'CAPRISONGS,' FKA twigs vibrates at her highest frequency

Interdisciplinary artist-musician FKA twigs released 'CAPRISONGS,' her debut mixtape and first release with Atlantic Records, on Jan. 14, 2022.
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Courtesy of the artist
Interdisciplinary artist-musician FKA twigs released 'CAPRISONGS,' her debut mixtape and first release with Atlantic Records, on Jan. 14, 2022.

Pluto scoffs at superficiality. The planet's transit, the way that the planet's movement activates and interacts with a person's natal chart, demands for connection with core purpose. It is a chance to break through illusions and probe deep in search of inner truth: to evolve and be reborn without perfunctory airs.

Born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, singer-songwriter FKA twigs celebrated her 34th birthday yesterday. A Capricorn and member of the Pluto in Scorpio generation according to her chart, FKA twigs experienced a powerful transit during the last Pluto retrograde, a time of significant reflection and potential, the timing of which coincided with the process of creating her transformative new release CAPRISONGS.

The British musician and interdisciplinary performing artist first entered the pop-industrial complex as a backup dancer in music videos, a career of appearances that led to the development of a character. Alluring and nymph-like in nature, FKA twigs' avatar sang songs of yearning — operatic elegies about giving and taking, how quests for power destroy relationships and interrupt intimacy. With a duo of EPs and her cult favorite debut album LP1, FKA twigs made a name for herself on a meta image that toyed with the gaze of whoever looked upon her. Capitalizing on seduction's wealth, she created an avatar that presented both herself and her music as an uncanny valley: "I come alive because you want me," her foundational works seemed to whisper. "You want me because I make you feel alive."

The first fracture in FKA twigs' constructed, guarded image came with 2019's MAGDALENE, her second studio album. Made in the midst of physical and emotional upheaval, FKA twigs found solace in the historically misinterpreted image of Mary Magdalene. A project of mirrors and introspection, FKA twigs confronted the binary trap she laid out for herself. Over sparse instrumentals, FKA twigs' soprano became clear for the first time. Lost in translation, now neither whore nor virgin, she located a version of herself inside of a centuries-old story about the demands made of women. For all its visceral intimacy, MAGDALENE still centered a covert FKA twigs, one reconstructed through a familiar story. It was a different reality for her to disappear into.

On her new album CAPRISONGS, FKA twigs finally lifts the veil. Once an aloof video girl; baroque lounge crooner; sword master; pole dancer; and wushu artist, FKA twigs chaotically layers her previous personas on top of one another to reveal Tahliah Barnett, messy but free. Ranging from eerie ballads to sweaty club bangers, each track speaks to the highest expressions of her Capricorn sun, Sagittarius moon and Pisces Venus. With CAPRISONGS, she throws her rulebook out the window and dives into the depths of her abundance. She finds herself embracing traditional hooks for the first time in her musical career and ambitiously shifts her sound to showcase pop's experimental, avant-garde potential. Doubling as her debut mixtape and first major label release, CAPRISONGS asks: what does a space where FKA twigs, recalibrated and vibrating at her highest frequency, sound like?

Aided by new collaborator artist-producer El Guincho, FKA twigs tests the boundaries of genre. She plucks traditional elements of synth-pop, dancehall, grime, neo-soul and ambient, splices them, and arranges them in a matrix only she — and authorized guests — can enter. This is essential FKA twigs, a level of production she's been evolving toward her whole career. Even sampling a taste of Ariana Grande's addictive "yuh"s throughout the mixtape, she flits between incredulous '80s MC on "oh my love;" contemplative, punk-adjacent beat poet on "which way" featuring Dystopia; whining bad gyal on mixtape highlight "papi bones" alongside hip-hop grime master Shygirl; and earnest altar boy attempting guidance on "lightbeamers."

Wildly varied in sound, FKA twigs' desire to rediscover experimentation's exhilaration weaves a compelling thread throughout CAPRISONGS. Describing the project as a "journey back to herself," its deviations offer a glimpse into FKA twigs' up-and-down, nonlinear process behind fulfillment, both in self and in her art. "I wanna be more confident, I really do," FKA twigs shares softly with a friend in the opening interlude of "meta angel," the mixtape's initial recall of her signature sound. Surrounded by a choir of her vocals layered on top of one another, she trips over insecurities, the constant deluge of negativity that restrains her light.

Overloaded with anxiety, she lets it all out on the dance floor as the mixtape transitions into lead single "tears in the club." Building from Arca's reggaeton-inspired keys, the R&B-pop track highlights the mixtape's purpose: catharsis through physicality. A failed love has embedded itself in her body – "I wanna get you out of my hips, my thighs, my hair, my eyes, tonight's the night," she declares in the bridge – and the only solution is FKA twigs' reflexive dancer impulse to process emotion through movement. To be connected with the flesh is to leave the mind behind, and FKA twigs plans on hogging the dance floor all night long.

Throughout CAPRISONGS, FKA twigs opts out of delivering devastating gut-punch lyrics, instead choosing to express herself as succinctly and simply as she can. In incomplete sentences, an unspoken desire bridges her disparate thoughts, and her soprano susses out the moment's feelings and opens up to its potential. She alternatively murmurs in place of words, repeats herself as if meditating. Still a tension between FKA twigs' desire to be honest and lingering need to remain hidden arises; even though she's channeled positive happiness to pen her most authentically autobiographical lyrics to date, an overwhelming amount of autotune and digital distortion muddy their raw honesty. As vocal manipulation has been integral to FKA twigs' music and avatar for years, it tracks that she'd be hesitant to give it up on a project so personal. Unfortunately the distortion sounds too robotic in some cases, specifically on "minds of men" and "pamplemousse," as if Amazon's Alexa downloaded poetry software and delivered the result on loop.

Despite the mixtape's digital saturation, there's an undeniable warmth to CAPRISONGS. Curated primarily through DMs and Facetimes, another process first for FKA twigs' discography, its primary strength lies in the narrative interludes and soundbites of friends, collaborators and loved ones. They call her out, bring her close and affirm her worth. "I love you ... I wish you could see in you what I see in you, what everyone sees in you," one friend says. "That's the golden stuff right there, and these are your golden years, so have fun."

The need for encouragement and vulnerability and sharing that need with listeners is an intimacy unlike what we've previously experienced of FKA twigs' emotional depth. As her most collaborative project to date, CAPRISONGS reveals growth in FKA twigs' production expertise. Surprising features from Daniel Caesar, Jorja Smith and The Weeknd are seamless as FKA twigs creates space for their unique sounds inside her own. Bareface confessions continue with the Arca-assisted "thank you song," as she opens the mixtape's closer with plaintive honesty: "I wanted to die, I'm just being honest. No longer afraid to say it out loud." The track is saturated with emotion as FKA twigs expresses gratitude for the love of the people around her, admitting that their care saved her life. Delicate and unafraid, "thank you song" harnesses core facets of the FKA twigs we know best and uses them to innovate her material.

Even with its otherworldly ambience, FKA twigs comes down to earth on the community-oriented CAPRISONGS, her lyrics anchored in reality for the first time. She's vulnerable in her trying, celebratory in her discovery, generous with what she shares. As the mixtape progresses, the more that love is poured into her, the more she's able to share it with others, chiefly her listener. Triumphant and external, the mixtape is a milestone of significant personal and professional transformation. FKA twigs has liberated herself from the confines of her character.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LaTesha Harris is NPR Music's editorial assistant. A relentless jack-of-all-trades, she takes turns writing, editing and producing music coverage. Invested in the culture behind pop, hip-hop and R&B, her work highlights the intersection between identity and history. Once in a blue moon, Harris moonlights as a talking head with no filter.