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FKA Twigs - Magdalene (Album Review)

Monday, 18 November 2019 Written by Ben Gladman

Since bursting onto the scene with her debut EP in 2012, FKA Twigs (the stage name of Gloucestershire-born Tahliah Barnett) has defied easy categorisation. Both sensual and intellectual, her music has blended R&B, trip-hop, electronica and countless other influences into a unique voice.

Her latest record feels like the culmination of years of work; here Barnett showcases a wider range of moves in individual songs than many artists manage in a lifetime. Both lyrically and sonically, ‘Magdalene’ is a triumph.

With a title as provocative as this one, Barnett promises to explore a daring definition of femininity. What she manages is an endlessly shifting representation, clearest on the title track itself. Playing on the traditional misreading of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, she reclaims her sexuality as yet another source of divine power. 

In interviews Barnett has spoken about Magdalene as Christ’s “equal”, dismissed and villainised by a patriarchal society that is confused and intimidated by her power.

As well as adding a deeper philosophy to the unabashed sexuality that has always run through her music, this track builds up a mystical, nurturing and dark picture of women that the rest of the album toys with in different ways.

In tracks such as the opener Thousand Eyes and the penultimate Daybed, Barnett finds a sort of beauty in the throes of depression and stasis. Fallen Alien brings intense bitterness and anger, the vocals spat out in a tirade before being wailed in a brilliantly discordant chorus.

Mirrored Heart and Cellophane channel feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and rejection into some of the most heartbreaking tracks Twigs has recorded; it is almost impossible to listen to them and not feel awe at how Barnett keeps alive a flickering sense of hope amid such despair.

Among the production credits are such diverse names as Skrillex and Nicholas Jaar, which shows in the endlessly inventive experimentation present. For as many different lyrical and emotional themes Barnett introduces, there seem to be endless sonic shifts and influences to match them. 

On the opening two tracks alone she shifts from choral a capella that wouldn’t sound out of place in a monastery, to glitchy, crackling synthesisers, to industrial drums straight out of a Nine Inch Nails album, before finally landing on a full suite of fluttering woodwind.

With such variety and passion, ‘Magdalene’ is an endlessly rewarding album that takes the listener on a unique, breathless journey. By the time Barnett sings the earth-shattering final line of Cellophane, “I’m not enough,” you have to wonder what more anyone could ask of her.

FKA Twigs Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon November 25 2019 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton

Click here to compare & buy FKA Twigs Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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