Sex is not, in the strictest sense, sexy. It’s that too, but it’s primarily other things. Sex is the moment mere “sexy” expands into something else entirely. For the lucky ones, it’s an incredibly and simply rewarding experience. For others, it’s a far more complex confluence of conflicting emotions and sensations: the good, the bad, the runny. If British haunteuse FKA twigs has been earning a number of well-earned comparisons to Björk lately (specifically Homogenic-era Björk), it’s not merely because of how tightly cloistered it feels inside her musical house, or how willing she is to warp the boundaries between glamor and alarm.
It’s also because of how perceptively twisted twigs’s understanding of intimacy comes off, and the deliberate paucity of easy resolutions her sonic eccentricities allow her. “This is sex without touching,” Björk once complained in the Tricky-helmed “Enjoy,” the dankest moment on Post and arguably the moment that album came closest to ripping in half under the strain of its contradictions. In that song, Björk delineates between sensations that turn her on (smelling) and those that repulse her (tasting). FKA (i.e. “formerly known as”) twigs’s LP1 is 40 minutes of sex and touching, and it intertwines repulsion with attraction to the point that the two are indistinct.
“When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on,” twigs promises in the opening track, setting up an apparatus wherein seduction is accompanied by the promise of progressively revealing layers of imperfection, of ugliness. “Break or seize me,” she yields as the echoing, slow-motion beats suggest a sauna turned up by ladlesful of blood poured on hot rocks. The production is claustrophobic, the message is stifling. Intimacy is how the worst of oneself becomes the best they have to offer. If the subsequent track and lead single “Two Weeks” and the metal-tipped shoegazer “Hours” temper the sexual uncanny valley a bit by focusing on such quaint bygones as, say, oral sex and orgasms, don’t neglect the opening line of the former: “I know it hurts.” She could kiss you for hours, and there’s something equally unnerving and encouraging about her distortion of the rubrics of submission, already in full bloom throughout last year’s astonishing video clip for “Papi Pacify.” A bit like Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent infecting the glitches of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, replacing the accordion strains of “Let My Baby Ride” with the S&M tableaux of Madonna’s “Erotica.”
twigs summons the most incongruous elements of trip-hop, glitch, and grime. Sometimes the effect is distressing in familiar ways: “Numbers” is a reverberating chamber of horrors in which twigs comes to the rude understanding that, no matter how many cognitive backflips she does or how seductively she vogues, some lovers will always be collectors. Other times the coexistence of contradictory impulses skirts dangerously close to twee gimmickry. Ditto twigs’s fondness for frothy overtures when they’re not tempered by menace, as in “Closer,” when she coos: “I was sleepy, but you held me through/Carried me along the sand, your footsteps gold and couth.” (This is one of those 40-minute albums that seems to know damn well it couldn’t be any longer without severe detriment.) But for someone who was just a few years ago backup dancing for the likes of Jessie J, LP1 is more than just a confident debut album. It’s primordial in a way that Björk herself has often attempted but frequently short-circuited letting her cognizance get in the way.