FKA Twigs’ New Album, ‘Magdalene,’ Is A Stunning Example Of Both Intimacy And Restraint

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From the hypnotizing opening hymnal, “Thousand Eyes,” FKA Twigs aka Tahliah Debrett Barnett is back and full of devotion and new perspective on her second full-length album, Magdalene. Five years have passed since the commercial success and critical acclaim of her debut record, LP1, and though she released another EP, M3LL155X, in 2015, Twigs has been mostly silent on the creative front during the last few years. She hasn’t been isolated though — in that time, she began and ended a relationship and engagement with Twilight franchise heartthrob Robert Pattinson, and also struck up a romance with teen star turned cult icon Shia LaBeouf.

Both of these men are full-fledged celebrities, worlds beyond the wings of indie stardom that Twigs occupied, and the experiences seems to have struck a chord in Twigs, as her new material is more focused on relationships than ever before. Breaking a nearly four-year musical silence in April of this year with the mind-numbingly beautiful video for “Cellophane,” in the visual Twigs pole dances in platform heels — and an outfit that seemed to reveal every muscle in her body — to a song about not being enough.

Recently replicating the performance for a late night performance, Twigs has been lauded as much for her dancing as her singing and songwriting, an additional talent that sets her apart from a lot of her peers, particularly in the indie space, and moves her toward the realm of pop. But as tempting as it would be to write the kind of revealing breakup songs that plenty of pop stars have indulged in lately, Twigs instead opts for veiled and opaque songwriting, elevating her work as lyricist and producer by keeping her work relatable, but not simple.

“Cellophane” and its accompanying video constituted a triumphant return, but after that Twigs let things simmer, finally releasing two more Magdalene singles in September and October, and even pushing the album back to early November for release. Her instinct to pull back while the massive stars of the summer dominated the conversation may have been the best move. Now that Taylor, Lana and all the rest have come and gone, and the crisp rhythm of fall is upon us, there is space and energy for the quiet contemplation an album like this one deserves.

While the Future-accompanied straightforward rap banger “Holy Terrain” is a clear outlier for Twigs, who mostly focuses on electronic, avant production (and self-produces a lot of her own music), it’s impressive to hear her singing complex vocal runs over trap production, and might be even more so to hear her spit some bars instead. Tellingly, this song describes the beginning of a relationship that eventually devolves into insecurity, echoing the same romantic disappointment of the lead single, or perhaps tells the story of seeking solace in a new connection that also leads to a dead end. Twigs does get closer to rapping on the chanted lyrics of “Home With You,” a song that reflects on not spending quality time from a too little too late perspective.

Across all the singles, including this week’s tentative and glitchy “Sad Day” — which is sonically more like classic Twigs — the narratives of failed relationships remain a throughline, suggesting that her recent experiences have been more impactful than her public silence ever let on. Even the album’s de facto title track, “Mary Magdalene” equates a “woman’s work” struggles with the eternal puzzle of focusing on herself, or using her power to please and help a man. Using the framework of religious faith as a motif to stand-in for the complications of sexual and romantic relationships, Barnett weaves her own reflections into the kind of breakup album that feels immediate and vulnerable, without blaming or exposing the other party.

This album is not just an artistic feat, but a relational one, as the age of social media and oversharing have left more than few of us regretting our past behavior when it comes to the dissolution of relationships. But more than that, Twigs sees beyond the specifics or pettiness of hurt feelings and looks at the deeper spiritual implications of how men and women relate. On Magdalene, Twigs manages to find distance from the subjects and specifics, even while she engages in painful and intimate emotional excavation of difficult experiences and personal failures. While this may not be a brash, showy pop album, it is a deeply relatable and admirable piece of work.

Magdalene is out 11/8 via Young Turks. Get it here.