LP1In many ways Tahliah Barnett still sounds like many thought the future would in 1995. More sinuous and fragile maybe, but twenty-six year old FKA Twigs is much indebted to the Bristol’s trip-hop takeover in the mid-nineties and in particular Adrian Thaws, AKA Tricky. Along with Massive Attack and Portishead, Tricky defined the period with his doomy and sensual debut album “Maxinquaye” which featured soulfully threatening vocals from his favourite muse Martina Topley-Bird, and it’s this artist who springs to mind more than any other whilst listening Barnett’s vocal abilities. Against the skipping, tapping and whirring percussion noises, sporadic booming bass and hip hop and trap time-signatures, Barnett delivers two variations -- a barely-there, traditional r’n’b fluttering falsetto and a surprisingly clear contralto; a marvellous, devastating contrast frequently exchanged during the same song.

t may not be 1995 anymore and explicit and unimaginative sexuality has replaced mystery and ambiguity and this is what has partly driven what seems an uncommonly insatiable appetite for this young singer who almost constantly remains somewhat hidden in all respects. “LP1” was preceded by two 4-track EPs which have served as an introduction to the singer (none of those tracks are included here) and accompanying each of these songs was a highly stylised video; no-one could tell who this person was though, so obscured by the surreal and vivid images -- a slippery and repeatedly oral Chris Cunningham cum Grace Jones “Corporate Cannibal” body-morphing aesthetic. These portraits proved irresistible and have made FKA Twigs the absolute doyenne of tumblr cool; the hype starts here indeed. Stripped then of these visuals as one is when listening to the 10 tracks here (at the time of writing only one song has visual accompaniment), the overall impact is not always as strong when relying entirely on melodic and sonic ability but a lot of the time it exceeds what has been heard to date such is the strength of the song writing.

Two Weeks” is a massive and masterful song, the highlight of “LP1”, and its straight-out-of-the-box perfection would be an achievement for any artist, new or established. Staccato delivery and clipped annunciation surround the only explicit references to sex, and sexual competitiveness, on the album. ‘I can fuck you better than her…..my thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in’ is an example of this but it’s the reference to ‘pull out that incisor’ and ‘flying like a screaming falcon’ that add another altogether otherworldly layer that so befits what we know of Barnett, a darker and by far more disturbing extreme to go to. “Video Girl”, like “Two Weeks”, is another of the more typically structured and sturdier songs which will have people reeling off names like Brandy, Aaliyah and Tweet -- sweet-voiced r’n’b artists who actively encouraged producer involvement to create music that was bleaker and more experimental than the norm expected at the time within the genre. But “Video Girl” is autobiographical; it references her time as a dancer in music videos by the likes of Jessie J and Kylie Minogue immediately before this album’s release and the subsequent change of hierarchy. ‘Is she the girl that’s from the video?’ leering demand is met with Barnett’s subsequent denial ‘I can’t recognise me’. The second chorus slows down just enough for the listener to think there may be a fault with their copy of the track, as though it’s malfunctioning; it’s a disquieting and magical little trick.

Hours” creaks up slowly like a sticky corrugated shutter, produced by indie female favourite Dev Hynes, and has the best example of this soft / hard vocal dynamic where the later verses become strident demands as opposed to the earlier girly infatuations. “Closer” is sublime Gregorian chamber pop ending with the devastating (I think) ‘all these years in isolation, isolation, isolation’ and “Give Up” sees the singer take the role of forceful encourager and rock.  Pendulum” starts with the clack of a stick being rattled around a cotton wool lined barrel with Barnett sounding as though she may dissolve into the background due to emotional upheaval. It’s one of the songs here, and odd therefore that it’s the sole production by pop god Paul Epworth, that feels pleasant enough but inadequate -- the most surprising thing you could say about Barnett, certainly. But it’s misleading as eventually it becomes somewhat of a centrally-placed heart to the album and its warmth burns through you. “Lights On” and album closer “Kicks” are at the weaker end of “LP1”, both tracks promise something that never fully develops or is reached and it’s here that Barnett is reminiscent of Kelela’s “Cut 4 Me” and the slow jams that appear on her album. Production levels are startlingly high and the vocals are pure r’n’b sweetness but there is a little either in the way or melody or mood here.

“LP1” is a record that at first seems to be somewhat slight considering the heft of everything that surrounds it. I was lucky enough to have this album a good two weeks before it was released and can say that after initially forming an opinion that wasn’t as favourable as this one, it kept drawing me back. It was as though I hadn’t heard all of the tracks yet but had retained enough of a clatter or a buzz or a divine falsetto being slowed down to a stuttering machine that I needed to go back and finish them properly, to give the record a fair chance. It’s only through these repeated listens that some of the tracks here really show themselves; it isn’t a slight record at all, far from it in fact. FKA Twigs debut is wholly impressive and bewitching and stands up as a cohesive and single-minded debut; let it also be known that she also wrote every track here. A brilliant and wholly exciting new talent on the British black music scene, whatever that music may be.

Normally the Riot Squad wouldn’t be having much to do with sporting events, but we’re willing to make an exception in this case because of the cultural significance of this event (and its sibling the opening ceremony).  This was billed as an event with a playlist which was more Heart FM than Radio 1 and that description was pretty much on the money.  We got performances from British pop legends Ray Davies, Madness, Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox (in a piece which was a bit like a live version of a bad Duran Duran video), Queen (half of them in person, Freddie on film), Take That (with one notable exception), the Spice Girls (all of them) and The Who (well, Daltrey and Townshend).

We also got a pretty varied selection of newer artists covering a pretty wide spectrum of current British popular music.  How about Emeli Sandé, One Direction, Elbow, George Michael, Kaiser Chiefs, Ed Sheeran, Fatboy Slim, Jessie J, Tinie Tempah, Taio Cruz, Beady Eye and Muse? It’s not comprehensive, but it did give a pretty good snapshot of the contemporary British music scene.

Any attempt to summarise British popular culture over the last fifty years in three hours is pretty much doomed to failure from the start, but this was a brave attempt.  And it wasn’t just about the music; we had fashion, comedy, dance and drama as well.  We also had the unsavoury spectacle of politicians trying to hijack the event for their own ends, and we really don’t need to see the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London idiot-dancing to the Spice Girls to boost their credibility with the voting public.  Honestly, we’re not as stupid as you seem to think we are (and we didn’t see you strutting your stuff to the bhangra or disco material either, so not so inclusive at all really).  And we had Matt Bellamy fronting Muse in his usual quiet style with keyboard and guitar virtuosity only to be trumped by Brian May with a routine which he’s been doing for the best part of 40 years (although not always with Jessie J to front it).

The event ended with a Who medley (you can make up your own punchlines about growing old here) and it was all over for another four years; apart from the online feedback and some of that was pretty horrific, particularly the posts about Gary Barlow.  We can all have our own opinions about the worth of someone’s work (and for what it’s worth, I think Gary Barlow’s a really gifted songwriter) but it’s never acceptable, under any circumstances, to attack a performer because they’ve suffered a personal tragedy.  I’m not going to attempt to communicate my disgust to you because Jason Manford has already done that in a way that won’t be bettered.  Those personal attacks left a bitter taste after a hugely celebratory event.

It’s interesting to look at the Beatles influence on the opening and closing ceremonies; the opening ceremony was influenced by McCartney, while the closing ceremony was influenced by Lennon, but we didn’t hear the best work of either songwriter (apart from fleeting references to “A Day in the Life” in the closing ceremony).

It seems quite fitting to bookend the London Olympic Games with those two British pop legendOn balance, the closing ceremony was a brave attempt to capture fifty years of British of British popular culture which worked most of the time and, when it didn’t, it failed heroically.  And as an added bonus, most of the artists involved in the ceremony performed really well in this week’s singles charts, even those that didn’t appear personally.  It seems that there are some things that we Brits are really quite good at.

Product DetailsIf you had given me this album, Delilah’s debut, and told me it had been in a time capsule since 1995 then I would probably believe you. I haven’t heard anything this influenced by that period’s prominent trip hop sound for a very long time but then everything comes back around again eventually I suppose.

The surprise is that Delilah didn’t go to one of those British stage/ talent schools that Adele (there’s actually a song on here called “21” on here, it’s rubbish), Jessie J and Leona Lewis (to name just 3) went to, because Delilah sounds a little bit like all of these artists and the songs here sound as though they could be interchangeable between any these singers (and this does give a small clue that this album could only have been recorded in the last 4 years or so). The supposedly inspirational but horribly gloopy “Shades Of Grey” for example could feature as one of the many power ballads on any of those artists’ albums and in particular brings to mind Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” but is not as good as either. And “Only You” sounds like a pale, completely soulless imitation of Regina Spektor’s exhilarating “Us” and would be great as an advert for a diet hot chocolate drink. Delilah can sing but then so can lots of people, it’s what you do with your voice and surround it with that matters.

Trip hop was a mix of genres – hip hop, pop, dub, drum and bass, r ‘n’ b – that, more than anything else, was about creating a mood.  It was ‘trippy’ and melancholic, dark and melodic and personally, I liked it a lot. Its Bristol-based pioneers (Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky) ensured that the effect was narcotic, thick and uneasy but as time went by it became watered down beyond recognition and the choice of the post yuppie supper party and style magazine crowd (hello Morcheeba, not the worst offenders to be fair though) and this unfortunately is the sound that Delilah’s borrows from. I found it hard to actually find anything in the first 7 tracks to interest me, it was all so polite, tasteful and moody but in a very self conscious way  it became the worst thing that I can say about music; part of the background.

There are small glimpses of inventiveness here particularly, ironically, on the Rufus and Chaka Khan-sampling, claustrophobic and bipolar “Go”’ but not so much on the Minnie Ripperton-sampling “Inside My Love” where it sounds as if they’ve said ‘let’s have another go at doing something like that Chaka Khan one we did’. “Love You So” is a good song and makes its point with strings and stomping and great verve.  I could imagine Shara Nelson post-Massive Attack owning this, and “Tabitha, Mummy and Me” is a nice, simple and melodic piano lead ballad which certainly has something about it which makes me hope that Delilah can maybe become something more authentic and diverting. On the whole though, this is a dull but highly-polished, mediocre ode to the worst of the mid to late nineties.