FKA twigs MAGDALENE Young Turks
The work of FKA twigs thus far has been a sustained meta-deconstruction of dysmorphia; of the ways such overarching concepts as love, technology, trauma and agency can converge on the body and fundamentally change it to dissociative effect. It is the through line that connects her stellar run of genre-splicing projects released consecutively each year from 2012-2015 and it is the lens through which she has built the entirety of her visual aesthetic.
MAGDALENE pushes this conceit to its breaking point. Borne from a nightmarish turn of events that found twigs undergoing laparoscopic surgery to remove six fibroid tumours from her uterus following a devastating break-up, the virtuosic dancer was forced to reconstruct her relationship with her body while still navigating the emotional fallout of a broken heart. “I was left with no option but to tear down every process I had ever leant into,” she wrote in the album’s announcement.
In this utter desolation, twigs was left with nothing but the purity of her own vulnerability, and it has resulted in the most powerful songwriting of her career. Nowhere is this more evident than on lead single cellophane, a bleeding-heart ballad that serves as a jaw-dropping showcase for twigs’ vocal prowess, ascending her range to heights previously unheard and colouring her tone with a well of raw emotion. Its accompanying visual reflects a reclamation of her physical form via a dazzling pole dance routine, crystallising the record’s tenet that profound strength and profound weakness are not diametrically opposed but a closed loop.
The sparse arrangement of cellophane is a poor indicator of the vast sonic expanse twigs explores across MAGDALENE. Working extensively with Nicolas Jaar, her muscular melodies are given additional heft by the producer’s signature use of densely layered instrumentation, and the album thrives in these flourishes. The devastating mirrored heart is grounded by the feral snarls of submerged guitar that charge to the fore of the mix when you least expect it, while opening track thousand eyes is a dirge that layers obtuse slabs of grating synthesiser over the ear like molasses, only to give way to sudden shifts of soft-pedalled piano. fallen alien takes this dichotomy even further by interlocking two seemingly disparate parts – a breathy chorus over insistent keys and a fiery verse bordering on a proper rap that sits atop a pounding, air raid siren of a beat.
Directly contrasting the cohesion of her previous releases, the veritable tapestry of sounds woven into MAGDALENE is among the album’s most rewarding assets. Even so, holy terrain remains something of an outlier. This is not to suggest that a sharp veer into trap territory is a misstep (it in fact provides a welcome moment of buoyancy) or that twigs is incapable of selling the abrupt switch-up. Rather, with everyone from Skrillex to Arca to Kenny Beats to Jack Antonoff contributing to the final mix, the otherwise terrific beat sounds over-produced to the point of making it incongruous with the rest of the record. It is also debatable whether Future was the best choice for the album’s sole guest feature. His appearance is jarring, and while one might concede this was entirely by design, it is harder to justify the presence of a rapper infamous for defaming and slandering his former romantic partners on a project focused on a woman’s recovery and healing.
Because make no mistake, MAGDALENE is first and foremost a bracing document of female pain and the sacrifice required to overcome it. twigs does not harp on this despair; holy terrain charts escape on the dancefloor while the giddily camp sad day finds a release of tension in leaning all the way into the drama. Nevertheless, nothing quite dispels the severity of the project’s origins. “A woman’s work/ A woman’s prerogative,” twigs sings on the haunting title track at the album’s centre. “A woman’s time to embrace/ She must put herself first.”
The biblical figure of Mary Magdalene is an unexpected choice of muse for an artist so synonymous with innovation, and twigs steers away from any clear interpretations. Yet there is a whiff of familiarity in the story of a woman who was present for the crucifixion, burial and subsequent resurrection of everything she believed and once held dear. “She just helped me get somewhere,” twigs said regarding her titular inspiration. “She helped me think differently.”