On FKA twigs’ sophomore release “MAGDALENE,” the artist takes the best of her past work and delivers a project that shows the London-based electronic pop artist at her strongest. By seamlessly blending her natural vulnerability with a rich, fully-fleshed sonic landscape, FKA twigs creates an immersive, emotional and cathartic portrait of her personal and spiritual journeys.
“MAGDALENE” is FKA twigs’ first release in four years since her 2015 EP “M3LL155X,” but the singer and dancer has remained active in the interim with various artistic projects such as ROOMS, a 12-room dance installation in London that took inspiration from zodiac signs, and the Baltimore Dance Project, which was a free workshop offered to dancers working to hone their craft.
Despite her recent absence from music, on “MAGDALENE,” FKA twigs is at her most artistically developed and emotionally complex. The electronic artist continues to be the primary writer of each song as she was in her prior work, and the tracks still detail the intricacies of her inner thoughts.
Since the quiet yet forceful longing found on her debut project, “EP1,” FKA twigs continues to make her feelings sound bigger than any one person. She constructs labyrinths out of her songs, keeping her musings from sounding repetitive.
Detailing the experience of all-consuming depression on “daybed,” the lyrics capture how FKA twigs makes presence out of absence: “Tired of my resistance / Smothered is my distance, yeah / Careful are my footsteps / Possessive is my daybed.”
For FKA twigs, the intimate has always been given a certain distance and reverence by nature of a singing voice that wavers between a whisper and a plea, but on “MAGDALENE,” this reverence for human connection transitions into something sacred.
This godliness is most present on opener “thousand eyes,” a song that starts out with a melodic rhythm and, once backed by the vaulting percussion, turns into a full-on chant; lyrics repeat and melt into each other, giving them a mantra-like quality only intensified by her sparse vocals.
By turning longing into something divine, FKA twigs manages to create a feeling that at once envelops her listeners while simultaneously keeping them at arm’s length, making for a wholly engrossing music experience. “MAGDALENE,” essentially, is a break-up album surrounding her split from Robert Pattinson, but FKA twigs defies any of the usual tropes that come with that label with music that is so undeniably hers.
The choice to intertwine otherworldly strength with intensely vulnerable moments is a conscientious choice and stems from an unorthodox way of understanding strength itself, FKA twigs said in an interview with Pitchfork.
“I mean, I am powerful and independent—and incredibly vulnerable and sensitive,” FKA twigs said. “I do find it problematic to always feel like your icons are always strong and always OK. If that is somebody’s idea of slaying in this time, it’s wildly off the mark.”
The production throughout the album remains undeniably influenced by her electronic roots, but FKA twigs embraces a wider array of sounds that help the album defy genre and transcend comparison among her contemporaries.
Departing from her usual trend of working closely with a select few producers, like Venezuelan musician Arca, whose contributions gave “LP1” its distinct visceral and warped sound, “MAGDALENE” sees FKA twigs open the studio to a larger, more mainstream team including Skrillex, Jack Antonoff and Cashmere Cat.
On “home with you,” warped and hushed verses contrast against the lofty, longing chorus, and the interplay between the two keeps its listeners on their toes, culminating in a flourishing symphonic accompaniment that lifts FKA twigs’ voice to new heights.
Likewise, the lead single, “cellophane,” sees FKA twigs deliver one of her career-best tracks. Undulating, persistent piano provides a foundation upon which her voice follows a crescendo with each statement of desire. When the verse ends with “All wrapped in cellophane, the feelings that we had,” the production bubbles around her words.
At that moment, each part of the song comes together in a singular moment that showcases the meticulous interplay between presence and absence, desire and isolation, and vulnerability and power that drive her artistry.
“MAGDALENE” is heart-wrenching, but it is heart-wrenching in a way that is distinctly the work of FKA twigs. On “MAGDALENE,” FKA twigs takes sadness and breathes life and beauty into the ubiquitous emotion.