FKA twigs: MAGDALENE (Young Turks) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019  

FKA twigs

MAGDALENE

Young Turks

Nov 07, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


It's been over five years since FKA twigs released her dizzying debut album LP1. On that record, singer/songwriter Tahliah Barnett outlined her bespoke pocket universe, capitalizing on the momentum of her two prior EPs with a series of statements on what it meant to be a strong-willed woman still plagued by self doubt. Given her goosebump-inducing soprano vocals, ear for a catchy hook, and stern stomach for blowing a track all to hell when necessary, Barnett felt set to become the avant-pop figurehead of the deconstructed club movement.  

The fact that the inherent promise of that title-namely the prospect of an LP2 and even an LP3-never came to pass, is solidified as a genuine loss with her deeply affecting new album MAGDALENE. Following the 2015 release of her further boundary-pushing EP, M3LL155X, Barnett fell off the radar, only reappearing occasionally: as the director on dance film Soundtrack 7, or as the lead in Spike Jonze's beautiful Apple HomePod advert. Her confession last year that this absence was the direct result of her bitter battle with uterine fibroid tumors and the ensuing surgery informs many of the narratives on her second album.

"Apples, cherries, pain/Breathe in, breathe out, pain/No, no, Novocaine/Still maintain my grace," sings Barnett on "home with you," providing a staccato narration of her agonizing experience dancing in the HomePod advert, giving a distorted weight to her very real fear that her stomach stitching might tear at any moment. These earthy physical concerns are in turn subsumed by her heavenly soaring declaration of love, though you get the sense it's too little too late. "I didn't know that you were lonely/If you'd have just told me/I'd be home with you." Over the course of MAGDALENE, Barnett's betrayal by her physical form repeatedly informs her more abstract romantic distance.

When it was released as the third single, "home with you" felt half-formed due to its purposeful tonal duality, but taken in context it forms a key introductory passage for a record that scrutinises a deeply personal schism. That's paradoxically what holds MAGDALENE together: stitches being pulled to their breaking point, whether they were binding surgical trauma or crudely zigzagged over deeper personal issues. Barnett's fight for self worth (arguably a birth right for women in Western culture) is right there in the title, a strand that appropriately comes to a head in the album's fifth song and midpoint "mary magdalene."

At 5:22, "mary magdalene" is the longest track on MAGDALENE, and certainly has the greatest scope. Forging forward across passages of steadily ascending post-trap production, Barnett reflects on Mary Magdalene as an unfairly persecuted pariah, muddying the waters between maternal comfort, sexual desire, and patriarchal obligation. In doing so, Barnett characterizes her own grapples with physicality and pleasure: "I know where you start, where you end/How to please, how to curse." The fact that it leads into the cathartic bang of "fallen alien" results in what feels like a genuine breakthrough.

What Barnett is aiming for on MAGDALENE is perhaps best expressed by its first single, "cellophane." "I try but I get overwhelmed/When you're gone, I have no one to tell," she sings in a key refrain, again recognizing the push and pull of love, and the suffocating weight of unsaid interactions. Everyone's trying, but those stitches don't always heal right. Sometimes it's easier to stop still, and just let yourself be overwhelmed; sometimes, we don't bridge the gaps we know we should. MAGDALENE might not be perfect, but it reverberates with the sound of someone shutting the door on a difficult chapter in their life. The prospect of what's next for Barnett is genuinely exciting. (www.fkatwi.gs)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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