Rebels that break into mainstream music don’t come often, but on the rare occasion when lightning strikes, they have the potential of reshaping an entire movement. From the beginning of her career, FKA twigs displayed a destain for fitting in any molds. Her first two EPs, while retaining a catchy and immediate facade, were defined by an underlying off-kilter essence. This dichotomy became more prevalent in FKA twigs’ subsequent stepping, crossing over from the auditory dimension and affecting the visual aspect of her works. The doll-like likeness of the artist in LP1 and the hallucinatory effect of M3LL155X are projections of how FKA twigs conceptualises her music. Looking at those images over time tells its own story and follows FKA twigs’ viewpoint as she moved from her early EPs to reaching a creative pinnacle with the experimental overload of M3LL155X.
The cover of FKA twigs’ new album Magdalene carries the same aesthetic stance. However, this time around, there is a certain subtlety that defines the cover. While LP1 and M3LL155X had a more immediate and striking effect, Magdalene relies on its subliminal beauty. A similar switch is mirrored on the sonic dimension of the record, and it became apparent when the first single was released. “Cellophane” features a minimalist perspective, with FKA twigs stripping away her adored electronic beats in favor of a stunning ballad-like performance. With only a piano accompanying her unparalleled voice, FKA twigs still provides her trademark experimentations but in small doses. Well placed effects and synths awaken her eccentric and unconventional interpretations. But it’s all performed in such an elegant way as to never cast a shadow over the raw, emotional vibe.
Elegance has always been a trademark quality of FKA twigs. Through grand structure, complex beats, and hallucinogenic flourishes, LP1 and M3LL155X hold a graceful core. Everything has a place and a purpose in the creator’s scope, leaving no room for fillers and wasted parts. It is exactly this core quality that the minimal setting of Magdalene further exposes.
Opener “Thousand Eyes” sees FKA twigs traverse a hymnal dimension, filled with choral-like vocal arrangements as Nicolas Jaar’s unorthodox production ideas take form. The track slowly expands, reaching a devastating crescendo of fierce augmented noise against a soprano delivery. The majority of Magdalene follows a similar perspective. “Sad Day” is structured against a melodic, whisper-like vocal delivery with a fantastically minimal backdrop that only explodes at key points. “Mirrored Heart” and “Cellophane” dazzle in this motif, revealing the fragile side of the artist, revering in their poetic beauty.
While stepping into this delicate dimension, FKA twigs doesn’t abandon her extravagant ideas. “Home With You” alternates between the two sides of this creative dichotomy, at times embracing an ethereal sense, before retreating to a darker and oppressive electronic music origin. Even in following many of the cliches of hip-hop and R&B music, FKA twigs is still able to propel an enticing mutation of these genres through her distinctive approach. Through her unreal delivery, she manages to transform the straightforward progression, giving a fresh perspective to a tried and tested recipe.
It was always expected that FKA twigs would not remain static, contempt with settling down on a particular mindset. Yet, in many ways her transformation in Magdalene is unexpected. Instead of doubling down on the blatant extravagance of her work, pushing harder into her idiosyncratic electronics influence, she has taken a step back, stripping down her vision to its core and thriving in this minimal foundation.
“Day Bed” is a perfect example of this, with Daniel Lopatin aiding to deliver a delicate, elegant, and deeply immersive opus. “Mary Magdalene” follows a similar trajectory, leaving behind much of the primal energy of FKA twigs’ earlier works for something much more elegant and graceful. It is not always necessary for revolution to be loud and bloody. Sometimes elegance and grace are enough to spark a transformative introspective journey. It is a rare occurrence, but that’s what FKA twigs has delivered with Magdalene.