Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review: Magdalene • FKA Twigs

On the cover of her second full-length record, FKA Twigs has been disfigured by the hand of another: An off-kilter portrait renders her nearly unrecognizable. But so does the record it represents: A complex set of eight songs, Magdalene captures a woman’s existential crisis within a sexist patriarchy, her crumbled relationship, and her exposed self-image under the public’s gaze in the past five years of noteworthy fame.

Twigs’ first record foreshadowed this one’s turmoil five years prior, but it explored much smoother contemporary rhythm and blues. Magdalene, meanwhile, creaks and snarls with pain; Twigs contorts her music to its extremes, snapping the joints in a skeleton of traditional pop songwriting buried somewhere deep beneath the record’s surface. (Spare the Future feature “Holy Terrain” from the previous statement; it makes an obvious grab at more accessible left-field appeal.) As droning robotics on “Home With You” sway, a solid bed of piano chords tether the song steady from below; after interesting digital vocal slides, “Sad Day” serves up an unexpected – but nicely textured – dance break. The oddities don't always resonate, however: The unhinged delivery on “Fallen Angel” weighs a bit heavy on the ear, and “Thousand Eyes” idles in a strange Georgian echo chamber.

While most of the record does not resemble popular music, each cut can be generally traced back to a very basic foundation. The record's incredible title track, for example, strikes a balance: With a focus on its striking melody line, the feminist thinkpiece gradually flourishes with digital sputters. Not until “Cellophane,” the album’s final number, is her musical landscape stripped to the bare necessities: Her crushing delivery swoops over a piano and strings, all beautifully executed. And perhaps the record could benefit from this styling more often; its electronic spasms and polarizing digressions sometimes better authenticate her instability than enhance its musicality. In that regard, Magdalene may feel a bit needlessly schizophrenic, but it certainly paints the desired portrait of FKA Twigs – one that was painted askew, got ripped to shreds, and is now being pieced back together again.

Magdalene is available now under Young Turks Recordings.

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