Silent Shout: FKA twigs & Boots Are Even Better Than We Thought
Silent Shout is our recurring roundup of the latest in alt-pop. It might not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.
FKA twigs is not overrated. Boots is not a fluke. And we know that now thanks to twigs’ beautifully jarring new M3LL155X EP, which had production from Boots on four of the five tracks.
FKA twigs has been a critical darling pretty much since the moment she emerged in 2012, but it always seemed like the breathless praise may have had more to do with the visuals, her former video girl narrative and the feminist framing of it all than the actual music. Though I was a fan of her two EPs, they certainly seemed to register on the Yngwie Malmsteen spectrum, where the music is more impressive than it is great or enjoyable. LP1 was frequently impressive and enjoyable, and occasionally great with its futuresex alien sounds gone pop. But M3LL155X is when her ability to make an experimental soundscape truly merged with her ability to make a dope fucking song.
The most striking quality of the EP is that she went even further to the pop and electronic extremes so that everything — most significantly, her voice — feels like it’s in stark relief. Where the electronics once dissipated into the ether, now they come roaring back in blasts of xenomorph hisses and core-of-the-Earth rumbles. Where her operatic coo served as a thread in the fabric, now her voice is a fluid swarm winding through the arrangement. On “In Time” and “Glass & Patron,” her voice is no longer obfuscated, providing a counterweight to the glitchy, witchy atmospherics. “Figure 8” might be the most ominous thing she’s ever released, and it’s also one of the richest vocal takes she’s ever put on record, which serves to further highlight the song’s sinister qualities.
All her references points are still intact — Aaliyah, Control, NIN, Timbaland, Yeezus, The Weeknd, Aphex Twin, Fatima Al Qadiri — but they’re more integrated into her own world this time. On those first three releases FKA twigs was trying to build out her influences, push them to their limits. Take the EP2 cover, for instance, and its clear similarity to Björk‘s Homogenic art. On M3LL155X, everything serves her vision of alternative music; she has created her own gravitational orbit that pulls in bits and pieces of outside influences.
And it’s the same thing Beyoncé accomplished in a pop framework on her self-titled album, a multi-layered tapestry of sounds that both bridged and dodged genres. The common link, of course, is Boots (this is not to imply he is solely responsible for both works). When I first heard he was working with twigs, I thought it might be a mismatch. There’s no overplaying his impact on Beyoncé, but it could’ve been a fluke, a right-place-right-time thing. I mean, anyone could seem fresh when throwing out ideas alongside Ryan Tedder. After Beyoncé, Boots released some compelling, if Weeknd-y material, along with solid contributions to RTJ 2. But none of it particularly suggested this was a guy who had a hand in shifting the entire pop music landscape just a year prior. M3LL155X suggests just that.
After this, there’s no doubt he’s currently one of the most versatile and risk-taking producers in pop. His mastery of chilling voice manipulations alone is almost visionary (see: “Haunted/Ghost” or his all-cat “Meowrly” remix), and that was before “Mothercreep” and “Figure 8” came around. That Boots’ debut album AQUARIA was just announced for November is exciting, but it’s even more exciting to think about which musician he’ll produce with next.
The hype is real for both these artists. If M3LL155X isn’t the result of them reaching the height of their powers, then it’s the “Peter Parker figured out how to use his web-shooters effectively” phase. And the fact that the EP’s accompanying short film has over 1 million YouTube views in a week means alternative music is far from dead.
Below, stream the EP and check out a roundup four great new songs from the alt-pop universe.
TALK ABOUT POP MUZIK
Neon Indian — “Slumlord”
It’s been four years since the chillwave gawd has released an LP, but the drought will end with VEGA INTL. Night School in October. The first taste was the squiggly reggae of “Annie,” and on second track “Slumlord” he gets even loopier. It’s a laptop epic that kicks off with a Moroderized synth lead, before transitioning into a dinky disco-house beat that leads to what is probably Neon Indian’s biggest chorus to date. The currents have shifted, but some chill waves are still rolling in.
Kučka — “Honey”
Aussie singer Laura Jane Lowther got a boost when she was tapped to provide backing vocals on A$AP Rocky‘s debut LP. As Kučka, she makes crystal-clear and crystal-delicate electro-jams that burble and twitch, making it easy to see why a blunted-out musician like Rocky became a fan. “Honey” is off her just-released Unconditional EP.
YACHT — “I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler”
It’s perfectly meta that this sardonic duo has delivered a commentary on our digital future with a track that is blatantly retro. And retro in the most maligned of ways: disco. They’ve taken the sound that was mercilessly ridiculed for favoring the “synthetic” over the “authentic” and blamed for the downfall of “real” music and used it to attack our synthetic digital existence and prove that we’re living in a future stuck in the past where the current is whatever’s on your phone screen.
GEMS — “Living As A Ghost”
This duo is like a moodier Phantogram — their debut album Kill The One You Love is inspired by Fight Club, after all. Rather than craft danceable grooves, these two create dense textures and dramatic moments that churn alongside quiet melodies. This is the album’s first single.