Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

There’s the outdated candle piece of a cassette tape placed in a player, then FKA Twigs’ breathtaking voice that says, “Hey, I made you a mixtape.” These opening moments of the British singer’s new release, Capprisongs, will activate a flashback for old-fashioned people.

Back during the cold war of the record industry’s campaigns against piracy, mixtapes were homemade compilations of songs that circulated on cassettes like samizdat communication. In those days, the ker-chunk came up with a health warning. “Home recording kills music,” a slogan from the British phonographic industry angrily – and incorrectly – warned in the 1980s.

Modern mixtapes are different. Popularized in rap music, these are album-length sets of songs released without the formality of a studio album. Despite the cassette sounds that FKA introduces Twigs’ first to the format, they are digital distribution products. Their usual goal is to keep a stream of new music going during the gaps between albums.

The tentative nature of mixtapes means that they often have a sketchy feel, like works in progress. But FKA Twigs, real name Tahliah Barnett, may have a different motive for wanting their more informal atmosphere. Her last studio album was 2019’s Magdalena, which came out in the aftermath of her traumatic relationship with American actor Shia LaBeouf. In 2020, she filed a lawsuit in which she accused him of sexual abuse, assault and inflicting emotional distress. It was, she claimed, “relentless” abuse. (LaBeouf denied all the allegations.)

Her new songs felt a looser, lighter feel than Magdalena and her debut album, 2014’s LP1. “Tears in the Club” is a moody R&B duet with The week about dysfunctional lovers following a dark sharpening groove – but elsewhere a brighter tone dominates. “I just want to go outside and feel the sun shining on my better side,” she sings in “Jealousy”, an Afrobeats song with Nigerian singer Rema. “Thank You Song” is a piano ballad about recovery.

A large supporting cast of guests appears on the 17 tracks, which were made mainly with the Spanish producer El Guincho. Black British performances are prominent, a musical homecoming after FKA Twigs’ Los Angeles-based alleged experiences with LaBeouf. Pa Salieu plays on the British drill-inspired “Honda”, while fellow UK rapper Shygirl shows up at the dance hall and reggaeton-influenced “Papi Bones”. “Home is a place that makes my heart sing,” FKA Twigs sings in “Darjeeling”, a winding tribute to London with singer Jorja Smith and rapper Unknown T.

Album cover of 'Caprisongs' by FKA Twigs

Accompanied by these other singers, FKA Twigs’ own voice has a multiplied aspect. Her usual high-pitched style is accelerated in a roar of words during “Lightbeamers” like racing thoughts. “Ride the Dragon” has the opposite trick, slowing her voice to a deep, muddy howl. “Careless” opens with hum and has a section of Mariah Carey-style flute singing. “Oh My Love” has the singing charm of old-fashioned hip-hop soul.

The multiplicity of singing styles conveys a sense of freedom and experimentation, a singer with room to breathe. In such a way, Capprisongs turn the convenience of mixtapes to its advantage.

★★★★ ☆

Capprisongs‘released by Young/Atlantic records

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