Review: MAGDALENE by FKA twigs

While not as strong as some of her earlier work, MAGDALENE is a gorgeous album that lives up to FKA twigs’ high standards.


Photograph Courtesy of Bobo Boom

FKA twigs is making music for the future. Since the beginning of her career, her music has always felt one step ahead. FKA twigs doesn’t fit into one genre: she combines pop, electronic music, and many other influences into a unique genre in the likes of Björk and Kate Bush. Twigs has never released a forgettable piece of music. Using forward-thinking production combined with stunning vocal work, her songs create an other-worldly experience that feels like a glimpse into the future of the musical landscape. Every piece of music that twigs has released has been met with acclaim, and since the release of her decade-defining “LP1,” fans have been waiting for a follow-up. After five years of singles and long periods of waiting, a full length release is overdue.

In mid 2018, twigs revealed that in December 2017, she had six fibroid tumors removed from her body, which sidelined her for months. Twigs has described that time as worrying and distressing, stating I never thought that my body could stop working to the point that I couldn’t express myself physically in the ways that I have always loved and found so much solace,” in both an emotional and physical sense. Earlier that year, she also ended her long-time relationship with actor Robert Pattinson. MAGDALENE, released earlier this month, is the first piece of music twigs has released since, and the album explores this difficult time in her life. References to her pain are riddled throughout the record, but there are also tales of resilience. MAGDALENE is about rising up in the face of adversity, telling an enthralling and powerful story.

The production on MAGDALENE is just as stunning as expected given twigs’ past work. Produced by twigs and a wide range of collaborators, including Skrillex, Nicolas Jaar, and Arca, the album has an atmosphere that is simultaneously solemn and invigorating. The album keeps the futuristic feeling of her previous work while also adding in more organic instruments. Some of the songs, like Cellophane, the album’s lead single, are stripped down. The song is much slower than much of twigs’ discography. Based around a somber piano rhythm, the tragic lyrics   create what is easily one of the most beautiful songs of the year. The slow movement of the song gave an early glimpse at the exciting direction that MAGDALENE ended up taking while still incorporating some of the unpredictable electronic production expected for a song made by twigs.

Twigs immediately sets the mood of the album with thousand eyes. The song features twigs’s voice layered over itself, imitating a church choir. The song depicts the end of a relationship and rises to a crescendo as twigs chants “It’s gonna be cold without those eyes.” On home with you, twigs uses vocal effects and intense production to create a song that is both beautiful and intimidating. Sad day, the first upbeat song on the album, is a nice change of pace after the intense openers. The story told in the song is not as uplifting, describing seeing a partner drift away while feeling hopeless to stop it. At no point in the album is the blend between natural and artificial instrumentation as effective, and the lyrics are as strong as normal.

One song that MAGDALENE could have done without is holy terrain. While guest artist Future’s feature has okay lyricism and rhyming, his style does not match that of twigs’. Additionally, the beat is oddly generic for the album, feeling as if it could have been taken from any trap rap song of the last three years. The transition into the song is also jarring, with the haunting piano-focused melody of sad day replaced by an energetic trap beat. The song is a misguided genre-blending attempt that had potential, but ultimately feels like a disjointed mess. 

Despite this, the album wastes no time getting back on track. Mary magdalene, a song titled after the biblical figure that also serves as the album’s namesake, is immensely powerful. Twigs’ vocals sell the song, showcasing her versatile style and creating immeasurably beautiful melodies. Fallen alien is similar, utilizing powerful percussion, techno synths and a pitch-shifted choir to create a wild song that continues the album’s greatness. 

Mirrored heart and daybed are a little slower, winding down the album and easing the listener through the final third of the project. Mirrored heart appears as if it will remain quiet throughout until it devolves into a synth- and drum-accompanied breakdown. Daybed features beautiful strings, twigs’ whispery vocals, and troubling lyrics. The song is one of the few that stays at a low volume for the entire runtime, and it is a perfect segue into cellophane. Cellophane closes the album perfectly, leaving the listener unsettled but satisfied.

MAGDALENE was burdened with high expectations from its conception. After half a decade without a full length project by twigs, fans were quite eager for new content. Even with its minor flaws, the album has absolutely delivered. While perhaps not at the level as its predecessor, the album blends sonical beauty with mind-altering electronic climaxes in a way that almost no other album has. MAGDALENE creates an emotional rollercoaster that demands listening. In a year filled to the brim with fantastic pop records, this is one album that truly stands out.

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Best song: sad day

Worst song: holy terrain