FKA twigs’ Ancient, Futurist, Uncanny Magnum Opus

On November 11, 2019

Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is MAGDALENE, the sophomore album from FKA twigs.

Line the covers of all of FKA twigs’ former works — singles, EPs, albums — up in a row and you’ll see her face and body in varying degrees of manipulation: spliced, cropped, painted, morphed, adorned. In fact, you’ll see this visual theme scattered amongst her videos and live performances, of which she has a substantial amount of artistic oversight, as well.

The imagery of twigs’ career is a jarring acceleration of a time-honored tradition in art (most commonly feminist-leaning art) of the marriage between beautiful expressions of humanity with the grotesque uncanny. For twigs — sonically, vocally, visually — the natural human form is but a plaything. No other visuals could be as fitting for a discography that spins personal experience (“All the songs I write are autobiographical,” she tells Apple Music) into an otherworldly storm of uncanny, futuristic clubs beats, avant-pop risks, and Kate Bush and Bjork-level unhinged vocal performances. Up until this point, the gestalt of twigs, is a consistently flooring, challenging picture. But MAGDALENE is next-level.

Brought up in the Catholic church, she borrows from Gregorian and medieval church music and enlists the likes of Nicolas Jaar, Skrillex, Daniel Lopatin, and benny blanco (alongside twigs herself) on production to create a world, both ancient and futurist, that reframes the story of misunderstood biblical figure in one breath (“mary magdalene”) and alludes to depression masterbation (“daybed”) the next. On one hand it’s infused with narratives struggle and questioning — twigs went through a highly publicly scrutinized relationship and breakup, as well as a painful health condition while writing the album — but as a whole, MAGDALENE’ leaves a taste of growth and strength in your mouth. “For a man who can follow his heart / And stand up in my holy terrain,” she demands in her collab with Future, “holy terrain.”

The album’s peak — and one of the best songs of the decade, period — remains the first single, and album-closer “cellophane.” The vocal performance alone, a controlled echoing of the timbre of someone trying to make a point while on the verge of sobbing, bites, cuts and begs. The video finds her eerily pole-dancing in a performance that’s both earnest and a charade of itself. It’s perfectly representative of MAGDALENE as a whole: a technically mind-blowing meditation wrapped in absurdity that feels freakishly normal when posed next to the relentlessly painful performance of existence that the album attempts to (and succeeds at) encapsulating.

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Amileah Sutliff

Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, the Head of Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.

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