Back in the day, mixtapes – on actual cassettes – were given away to friends, lovers and bandmates. They were vectors of shared passion, party playlists or just a way of introducing yourself. Caprisongs, British R&B singer FKA twigs’s third album-length project overall, is a self-declared mixtape, not merely in the hip-hop sense of a record put out for free, but in the old-fashioned one. It starts with the plasticky clunk of a tape being inserted into a deck. Tellingly, it feels addressed to twigs herself as much as anyone else, although this is a record that very much reintroduces her, and to a wider audience.
Through 17 tracks, this formerly niche artiste makes a bid for the mainstream, in the company of featured guests (eight in total) and producers (22 all told), friends (many) and a perfumer called Christi who is also an astrology buff. One significant presence is the electronic musician Arca, who worked on twigs’s LP1 (2014), among other releases. But all sorts of helpmeets had a hand in this effort: Welsh producer Koreless, Kanye alumnus Mike Dean, in-demand creative Sega Bodega and Nick Cave associate Warren Ellis. (Twigs and El Guincho co-executive produce.)
If twigs’s previous album, Magdalene (2019), was a conceptual deep-dive into the historical figure of Mary Magdalene conducted through left-field digitals, Caprisongs collates a set of more ephemeral pop tunes in which twigs broadcasts selfhood 17 ways, finding unexpected common sonic ground with artists such as Grimes, Charli XCX and Self Esteem. Magdalene pivoted around a neglected herstory; Caprisongs is both intimately autobiographical and keen to display how twigs, until now something of a cult figure, is actually very much up for wider worship.
It is very bop-led. If twigs’s recent single alongside the Weeknd, Tears in the Club, found her reclaiming her body for herself after a relationship, on Oh My Love, a slow slice of trap-infused R&B, she aches at a lack of clarity in a love affair.
Papi Bones borrows from dancehall reggae and celebrates moving friskily. It’s a practice central to twigs’s artistry – she is a former dancer who incorporates physical disciplines from pole dancing to martial arts into her work; Kate Bush is a clear foremother, both physically and vocally. All of these party tunes mark twigs’s emphatic arrival into the pop space, following last November’s Measure of a Man – from the soundtrack to the film The King’s Man – a bold repositioning that was basically a Bond theme manqué.
But although friskiness is very much on her mind, it’s impossible to hear Caprisongs without reference to trauma. Just over a year ago, twigs – born Tahliah Debrett Barnett – went public with a lawsuit against her former partner, an infamous US actor, for sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress.
Despite being uncomfortable with the glare of intrusive public scrutiny Barnett had endured in a previous relationship with another actor, she was keen to detail the tactics of coercive control her more recent former partner had used, especially in the wake of lockdown, where at-risk women were shuttered with potentially volatile individuals.
Caprisongs is very much about how OK twigs is now, and how suffering through high-profile relationships is emphatically not her USP. It also looks back to the more distant past. On the UK-themed Darjeeling, a small-town girl moves to the big city. Which Way ponders choices Barnett has made on the way up. “I had a good job and I left, I left cos I felt it was right,” she sings. “Left! Right!”
But many of these tunes do deal in deeper self-understanding, often through the prism of astrology. “Sagimoon, Pisceveen… Caprisun,” specifies the standout Meta Angel (“Pisceveen” means, at a guess, Venus in Pisces). The outro to Oh My Love declares the importance of knowing your worth, of a piece with Self Esteem’s recent LP Prioritise Pleasure. The dreamy music-box tune Lightbeamers starts like a series of notes to self: “Did you give yourself away, again? Don’t do it again.”
“When I’m winning I’m a flyer, soprano in the choir,” sings twigs, at her highest. “I wanted to die, I’m just being honest,” she sings on Thank You Song, recalling herself at her lowest. No woman should be defined by their relationships with men; the work of female musicians should not be understood in relation to their male exes. But Caprisongs feels like it’s about learning, on every level. And as twigs points out on the biography that accompanies this release: “I learned to write a hook.”