FKA twigs’ MAGDALENE is a requiem for love lost, a broken prayer to remedy the aching stages of lust and longing. At its most ferocious, it’s a sharpened blade to the throat of those who have wronged twigs, though such moments can be lost in a sea of thorny production, which at times turn the artists own sword against her.
Ex-backup-dancer turned ground-breaking musician and artist, Tahliah Barnett (professionally known as FKA twigs), first appeared into everyone’s lives with her breathy and sultry 2012 EP, aptly titled EP1. Songs like ‘Ache’ gently caressed the soul into sweet oblivion, while ‘Weak Spot’ introduced us to twigs’ knack for building songs from mere whispers into cacophonous explosions of absurdist noise. It was magical, and unlike anything that existed at the time. twigs seemed to be of her own, on her own, and on the perfect track to solidify her ingenuity into a full-length project.
Thus, came LP1, which is important to speak of in the wake of MAGDALENE’s long-awaited release. LP1 changed the game for everyone. Its influence is still heard today in artists who have, in their many attempts, barely come close to the zeitgeist that was this full-length project. From its first love-soaked choir chants in ‘Preface’, it was clear that the album was an evolution on presentation. Throughout, twigs is backed by trippy, abrasive beats that find themselves in off-kilter positions, and her voice slinks and swerves like a sensual alien. To assume that her high-pitched voice would fit so snuggly amongst trip-hop co-produced with Arca, you’d have to be insane, and yet it worked even better than anyone could ever have expected, carving a path for the artist as an ingenue in a field of her own.
LP1 was quite unlike anything that an album had achieved at the time, and is yet to achieve, even across the discography of twigs herself. Adding to the experience of the project is the fact that during the process of absorbing lyrics of brokenness, desire and longing so precisely articulated that it physically pains you, an absurdist Grammy-nominated album cover from the genius of Jesse Kanda stares into, not exactly your soul, but something slightly to the right of you. She’s looking up, she’s pining, she’s bruised, she’s at the brink of tears. If LP1 was the pinnacle of yearning and lustful impulse, MAGDALENE is somewhat the opposite.
MAGDALENE is lonely. She wants someone to do right by her, and she’s unquestionably in her feelings, whispering love songs through gritted teeth. She knows her worth and asks the simple task of her lovers, “stand up in my Holy Terrain”. In many senses, the album is also vengeful. It stings with the pain of being struck by the arrows of love but also has no qualms about aiming for the heart itself. The transition between the two feelings isn’t as gentle as one would expect, but then again when has FKA twigs ever lived by expectation?
Across multiple tracks, the album flits between ravaging and love-starved, between deified brokenness and introspective, almost empty cries. It makes sense, as the human emotions often do this after the heart is snapped in two, but sonically, it at times feels difficult and haphazard, in ways that differ to the focused chaos of LP1. While that project, as long ago as it was, had a cohesive run from start to finish, MAGDALENE is unafraid to be different, flipping so violently between moods that can best be captured in ‘home with you’, a track that possesses both faces of twigs’ new holy creation in one track alone.
It’s no mystery that FKA twigs has been through her recent share of heartbreak, which cannot be avoided in speaking about this new album. ‘sad day’ flirts with wishful thinking, jaunting along ferociously alongside ravenous beats that accompany twigs’ brittle emotions. The song acts as a séance for past loves, calling out to them through the void with no success and no failure equally. It’s most definitely a highlight of the album, but the mood quickly shifts from illuminated misery to glorious defiance as soon as ‘holy terrain’ featuring Future kicks in.
At first, such a violent switch in mood can be seen as a bit messy in terms of tracklist order, especially given the fact that ‘holy terrain’ is the only track on the album that could be classified as a stereotypical R’n’B banger. The bop is sandwiched between two songs of tactile grace, raw songs that pinpoint exactly where twigs’ heart rests at this very point in time. Terrain belongs on the project, without question, but it remains as but one example as to why the album feels disjointed at times.
It has to be restated that the heart in brokenness flits between curses, confidence and calamity, and this fact is undeniably what twigs is trying to communicate with MAGDALENE. ‘fallen alien’ is a treacherous piano-lead gnashing of teeth, an affront to everyone who has dared strike against the lover in her. It’s bombastic, ridiculously beautiful, and stunningly futuristic, but it stands ground against wrongdoers with help from producer Nicholas Jaar. “In the blazing sun I saw you, in the shadows hiding from yourself” twigs mercilessly snarls, only for a choir of alien-like creatures to back her up in reverent discord.
And then, as is the spirit of the album, this confidence is swept right from under us, with ‘mirrored heart’, FKA twigs’ most emotional song to date, that swerves into us after ‘fallen alien’ is finished causing chaos in these sullen streets. In fact, the last three songs of the album can be summarised as twigs’ most emotional affronts to date. Try not to cry to any of them, I truly dare you.
Hearts are on the line in these tracks, which less like songs and more like someone navigating through your past histories of failed love with surgery-like precision. It’s almost invasive how personal these songs feel, and they cement the second half of the album as the stars of the show. While ‘mirrored heart’ laments on the fact that lost lovers are undyingly unforgettable, ‘day bed’ is a blissful ballad of malaise and mourning, where tiredness, futility and distance overcome all else. The track could very easily be about twigs’ process of healing after having 6 tumours removed, which undoubtedly would have affected her motivation to continue on. Yet, after confronting you with the fact that your heart is lonely and your body is constantly reeled in by your empty bed, twigs decides to hit us all over the head with ‘cellophane’ to wrap things up.
We all know how this song makes us feel by now: not good enough, difficult to love, poor in our abilities to keep the heart alive. And then the project is finished, and you are left weeping in the middle of the road with the streetlights focusing on you like a stage show. MAGDALENE is beautiful, possibly the most beautiful that twigs has ever been, and it scrapes at the ceilings of perfection, not quite breaking through due to tracks that feel a little drawn out and unfocused like the five-minute opener ‘thousand eyes’ (even though this song is quite the experience on speakers).
FKA twigs is in prime form, the best she’s ever been, and it’s clear that she knows how to constantly evolve her sound, never sticking to expectations or typicality. Like most twigs projects, the album requires a few listens to fully appreciate, but my God, once you fully unravel the secrets and mysteries of MAGDALENE, you truly feel enlightened. Enlightened and very, very lonely.
Highlights: ‘cellophane’, ‘fallen alien’, ‘day bed’, ‘mirrored heart’