FKA Twigs
Magdalene


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
November 13th, 2019 | 57 replies


Release Date: 11/08/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: her masterpiece

An oft-overlooked aspect of music is which artists truly have a voice in the direction and shaping of their genre. Every musical field is an elusive and constantly shifting set of paradigms, but at all times someone seems to serve as the figurehead for the movement. Sometimes that spotlight only lasts for an album or two before someone more innovative knocks them off of their figurative pedestal; it’s perpetually in flux. The roundabout point here is that whatever you consider FKA Twigs to be – R&B, electronic, trip-hop, “art pop” – Tahliah Barnett is a key influencer in what her peers do. LP1 is mostly to thank for her seizure of that platform, which took the slowly evolving sounds of her first two EPs and curated them to near-perfection. At its best, it could be considered an R&B landscape-altering piece – an album that would have a large impact on other artists within the genre for the remaining half of the decade. Interestingly, for as successful as LP1 was, the 2015 EP M3LL155X is what saw her achieve her artistic zenith and assume the form that we now witness with Magdalene – she’s darker than ever and the additional presence of glitchy, codified production adds a chaotic sense of contrast to her gorgeously smooth vocals. If LP1 was her breakthrough and M3LL155X was a necessary bridge for her to pinpoint her ideal formula, then Magdalene is FKA Twigs delivering a fusion of her best ideas and production qualities to date – her masterpiece.

At just nine songs, Magdalene feels like only the best cuts were utilized. ‘thousand eyes’ is a bold choice as the opener – it’s the record’s second longest track and it relies primarily upon a series of chanted mantras. The backdrop is mechanical, cold, and bare; a canvas comprised of little more than the occasional clang or rickety echo. It’s challenging – perhaps even alienating – but that’s what fans of FKA Twigs’ art come to the table for. Whereas ‘thousand eyes’ sounds more like a jarring overture than an actual song, ‘home with you’ swoops in with all of the warmth and vulnerability that was missing from its predecessor. The track makes several observations about relationships, ranging from toxic codependency (“The more you burn away, the more the people earn from you / The more you pull away, the more that they depend on you”) to Barnett’s interesting choice to compare her own willingness to die for her loved ones to that of Mary Magdalene’s commitment to Jesus Christ. Sonically, ‘home with you’ is a tightly wound ball of rope slowly unraveling; it begins with palpable tension as the chant-like delivery from ‘thousand eyes’ carries over – however, as it progresses, Tahliah’s words seem to flow more effortlessly until they’re eventually spilling all over the page. By the end of the track, her lyrics and melodies take off with a flourish of strings – a moment that qualifies as a twist, but also one not entirely unforeseen given the track’s gradual deconstruction from rigidly robotic to freely ascending. The thawing process is complete by the time we reach ‘sad day’, which features the lushest melody out of Magdalene’s crop. Underscored by moody IDM beats, FKA Twigs’ vocals sound richer than ever, making for an accessible cut that is sure to double as a fan favorite/album highlight.

If there’s a creative decision on Magdalene that’s likely to draw any ire, it’s the inclusion of famous hip-hop artist Future on ‘holy terrain’ – a track whose beat opens itself up to the possibility of a rap verse, but ends up sounding like a fairly generic mainstream radio song when all is said and done. Future isn’t directly to blame for this, as the track is inherently formulaic, and there’s no guarantee that a different artist in the feature slot would have saved it. It’s not a poor effort outright, but it fails to live up to the artistic standards that the rest of Magdalene upholds. Fortunately, things immediately pick back up with the title track – a tale of subtle desire and bold confidence where Barnett addresses women who’ve been diminished and/or written out of history merely due to their sex: “A woman's war, unoccupied history.” She again likens herself to the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene – one of Jesus’ primary disciples who was dismissed throughout history as a prostitute rather than a person of crucial religious/historical importance (unlike her male counterparts who were not subject to such discriminatory bias). On ‘mary magdalene’, FKA Twigs writes, “A woman's touch, a sacred geometry / I know where you start, where you end / How to please, how to curse”, and it feels empowering – a more poetic “women rule the world” sentiment. The relatively bare canvas lends an air of authority to her vocals, almost as if she’s alone in a cathedral, making for an elegiac pop ballad that positions itself both figuratively and literally as the record’s centerpiece. It’s also the album’s namesake, and when pairing Magdalene’s jarring artwork with the accompanying lyrics about women’s historically embattled rights, each scar upon her face seems like less of a blemish and more like a badge worn honorably.

Magdalene is backloaded with some of FKA Twigs strongest individual tracks to date. ‘fallen alien’ is a career highlight and immediate song of the year contender, possessing one of the most rhythmically complex and aesthetically rich atmospheres that she’s ever crafted. The track commences with gentle piano notes and electronic effects that are jolted to the forefront with the synth-equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. FKA Twigs’ opening verses are then interrupted by extremely high-pitched, digitally-altered chants of “I feel the lightning blast”, and it’s clear that this is going to be the most epic bid on all of Magdalene. Thematically, the song again deals with relationships gone awry – in this case, that feeling of claustrophobia when you sense that someone is restricting your potential: “I never thought that you would be the one to tie me down…but you did.” FKA Twigs went on record confirming as much, stating, “For me, it’s that line, When the lights are on, I know you/When you fall asleep, I’ll kick you down/By the way you fell, I know you/Now you’re on your knees. You’re just so sick of somebody’s bull***, you’re just taking it all day, and then you’re in bed next to them, and you’re just like, ‘I can’t take this anymore’.” Of course, as per Twigs’ reputation, the song’s motives aren’t overly transparent – so while such meaning can be derived through interpretation, ‘fallen alien’ is, at least from a technical/musical standpoint, an absolute blast.

The closing trio of songs are all relatively low-key compared to the preceding six, especially when pitted against the borderline maniacal ‘fallen alien’, but they offer some of the most honest glimpses into FKA Twigs’ personal life. ‘mirrored heart’ is a breathtaking lo-fi piece that likens significant others to reflections of ourselves, and – driven by Tahlia’s beautiful but equally pained wails – mourns the agony of severing such a reflection: “But I'm never gonna give up / Though I’m probably gonna think about you all the time / And for the lovers who found a mirrored heart / They just remind me I'm without you.” ‘daybed’ deals with depression – with FKA Twigs comparing the flies on her dirty dishes to welcome guests/companions – atop a mesmerizing bed of electronics that favors passive dissonance over any sort of substantial display. The curtain call, ‘cellophane’, is in essence a piano ballad draped over a minimal beat, but Barnett’s voice carries it everywhere it needs to go. Whether it’s the way she so tenderly sings, “They wanna see us alone, they wanna see us apart” or how she kicks the register (and emotion) up several notches when she despondently cries, “And I just want to feel you're there”, ‘cellophane’ is a song that starts and ends with Barnett and her impressive vocal spectrum. The distorted notes that float aimlessly between her words submerge her voice in a blurry, dream-like atmosphere, but the rest is simply a display of inimitable vocal prowess. As such, ‘cellophane’ feels like the perfect closer – it’s raw, candid, and musically bare…a window to her soul.

Stepping back again to put Magdalene in context, it’s clear that FKA Twigs has created her best album so far. It combines the addicting complexity of M3LL155X’s production aesthetics with the more elaborate and thoughtful songwriting of LP1. The only question that remains is whether or not Magdalene further augments FKA Twigs as one of – if not the – face of experimental R&B/electronic art-pop. In merging all of her best traits, she’s surely crafted a piece to be reckoned with, but for those same reasons it’s less of a boundary pusher than M3LL155X or LP1 were before it. When you exist on the cutting edge of musical experimentation, if you’re not inventing something new then you are falling into a pattern. It’s a perfectly acceptable path, and Twigs has earned this niche, but it will be interesting to see where she goes from here now that she’s crafted her magnum opus. Whether she decides to scale a new mountain or plants her flag into this one will dictate whether or not someone else supplants her as the next visionary in the genre. Regardless of what the future holds, though, Magdalene sees FKA Twigs reach a wholly satisfying pinnacle that is unlikely to be rivaled by any of her peers in 2019.




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3.9
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Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
November 13th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Damn SoundCloud for not having a full-length version of 'fallen alien'.

Listen to the best song on the album here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hky6cifwWyo

Digging: Low Roar - ross.

Relinquished
November 13th 2019


42171 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

ctrl+f "art-pop"



ah there it is

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 13th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

for the record I also called it many other things!

StarlessCore
November 13th 2019


6922 Comments


So is this that whorecore stuff that's supposedly all the rage?

Digging: Gouge Away - Burnt Sugar

brainmelter
November 13th 2019


6696 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yea this is gouda cheese

Digging: Child Abuse - Imaginary Enemy

DoofDoof
November 13th 2019


6315 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

A return of the ‘m’ word in a Sowing review :D

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 13th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Been a while since I've dusted off the masterpiece praise

dbizzles
November 14th 2019


13621 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Going in.

Digging: Maquinas - O Co de Toda Noite

Gyromania
November 14th 2019


28946 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Everything's a masterpiece. You get a masterpiece! And I get a masterpiece. EVERYBODY GETS A MASTERPIECE

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
November 14th 2019


1050 Comments


thought for sure this would be a 5 when i clicked it

great review, still gotta hear this

GhostB1rd
November 14th 2019


4441 Comments


"So is this that whorecore stuff that's supposedly all the rage?"

She does pole dance in the video so who's really to say?

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 14th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

For what it's worth, and I sort of touched briefly on it in my review, this is probably her least adventurous album. It's the ideal blend of her strengths in my opinion, but she doesn't exactly take huge risks with this. That, combined with the track featuring Future, kept this out of the classic tier.

JesusCage
November 14th 2019


326 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I agree that after fallen angel the album loses some steam, but cellophane closes the album beautifully. One of my favourite tracks on the album.

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 14th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I think you mean Fallen Alien, but yes it loses a step in its pace/physical momentum...with that said I also think those are 3 of the strongest slow songs she's done!

luci
November 14th 2019


11970 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

my top 3 are cellophane, fallen alien and holy terrain. i will defend that track forever, it's exactly what I want from a twigs crossover hit. chorus has my fav melody on the record, great lyrics, infectious instrumental track. issa bop

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 14th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Fair enough re: holy terrain; I tried not to bash it in my review as it's not a poor song regardless of taste - I just don't think it fits here. Feels like maybe it should have been on an EP with other guest slots/features I dunno.

My top 3 are (1) fallen alien, (2) home with you, (3) cellophane/sad day (tied)

JesusCage
November 14th 2019


326 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, it was alien obviously.. sorry

I like holy terrain in general, but i don't really dig what Future does in his verse , it seems kinda off, when he's doin the baking vocals tho he fits the song alright.

Top 3 for me might be Cellophane, fallen alien, sad day, although mary magdalene's might rise in this rankings.

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 14th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Even though I've listened to fallen alien like 80 times already, I still expect her to sing "I'm a fallen angel" every single time. Cliches die hard I guess.

mary magdalene is a pretty underrated track indeed, it's already grown from one of my least favorites initially to the middle of the pack

luci
November 14th 2019


11970 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Your defense made me realize that it's like the "Doin Time" of the album lol. I'm fine with a sonic outlier that adds some needed energy in both cases.

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 14th 2019


32734 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

That's the most apt comparison ever, nicely done. I hate the inclusion of both of those songs on their respective albums, ha! I'll concede that they're both decent standalone moments, though. I'm okay with sonic outliers on albums but somehow they both manage to snap me out of masterful albums right when I'm getting sucked in the most.



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