Seldom do we see artists like FKA Twigs come along. Since the release of her first EP, EP1, in 2012, Twigs has always appeared to be a fully-realized, self-assured artist; every move of hers is deliberate and impactful. Her music feels transcendent of what pop music can be, almost alien at times. Her soprano is a haunting siren song, waxing and waning over twitchy, experimental club beats, faltering and shaking with firm purpose. Her musical prowess is minimalistic yet commands attention — silent but mighty — with each release of hers sounding both timeless and previously unheard; Magdalene is no exception.
On Magdalene, Twigs traded in the trippy sound heard on LP1 and (somehow even more so) on M3LL155X for something softer and ambient. It’s a shift for Twigs, but cohesive within the rest of her catalogue, unwilling to compromise any prior artistic vision. Each release of Twigs’ feels tied together despite their differences, creating a euphoric atmosphere around her artwork. The minimalistic approach taken on Magdalene allows for Twigs to explore the depths of her distinctive voice, playing it like an instrument throughout. Paired with the intricacies of the production, it’s clear Twigs spent the four years between LP1 and Magdalene fixated on ensuring her full artistic vision was brought to life.
The album opens on “Thousand Eyes”, a haunting work that sound choral, almost like a hymn. Featuring instrumentation diluted beneath Twigs’ vocals (although it explodes towards the end, leading into her characteristic audio distortion), “Thousand Eyes” is soft yet powerful; the perfect introduction to an album that can be described as such.
“Thousand Eyes” is followed by two standout tracks. In “Home With You”, her voice ranges from digitally edited and robotic to operatic and pure, blended together with a sea of instruments towards the end and leaping up as sounds hidden throughout the production.
“Sad Day” is an intimate inner battle, a story told in serene vocals layered on top of industrial production. It is one of the few faster paced songs on the album; although her airy voice seems better suited to slower songs, when Twigs tackles a song like “Sad Day” it’s only a testament to her versatility and musical deftness.
“Holy Terrain” is another example of this; it’s the most familiar track on the album, reminiscent of something that would be on the radio, but Twigs’ distinctive style twists it into something new. With a verse from Future, this song sees the only feature on Magdalene. In her characteristic whispery vocals, Twigs’ voice is on the edge of cracking as she floats through the pre-chorus: “will you still be there for me once I’m yours to obtain?” she asks after a melancholic look back at a honeymoon phase. Then, she shifts into full power when the chorus rolls around, making an insistence that she’ll only accept a lover who’ll care for her in the way she deserves and it’s pure catharsis.
While the mix of experimental pop and mainstream rap is an intriguing one (A$AP Rocky’s collaboration with Twigs, “Fukk Sleep”, is the obvious standout on Testing), Future’s feature on “Holy Terrain” feels phoned in, a disappointment considering the vigor of the song. In contrast with the tender care Twigs has taken the time to weave through the song, Future’s attempt seems weak, unable to meet the challenge she’s presented. Joining the ranks of Twigs’ more accessible songs, “Holy Terrain” is a memorable moment on Magdalene, but could have easily benefited from a different collaborator.
The latter half of the album consists of the slower, softer end of the record. While Magdalene is clearly a coherent and complete vision, it may have benefited from another faster paced track or two akin to singles “Holy Terrain” and “Sad Day”. Clocking in at 38 minutes spread out across just nine tracks, the album only has so much time to wade in its simplicity. A willingness to experiment are what make Twigs stand out as an artist; Magdalene showcases this just as well as any of her other projects have (perhaps even more so due to its minimalistic, generally straightforward production, a stark contrast to glitchy Twigs), but more variation would have been an asset to this album.
It’s really hard to make any sort of complaint, though, when Twigs has given her audience something so forthright, raw and authentic. Small gripes aside, Magdalene is a revelation. As the year draws to a close with this piece of art, Twigs may have cemented her place as one of the best, most innovative artists to come out of the decade.
The album ends with “Cellophane”, made up of breathy vocals and quivering questions of love. “Cellophane”, stripped bare in comparison to her usual production, is the perfect note to end the album on. It’s understated with a purpose, finding strength in its silence.
Magdalene cannot be discussed without citing its inspirations as the lyrics are deeply sincere, inspiring secondhand heartache. On Magdalene, Twigs croons about both the end of her widely publicized relationship and the struggle of living with fibroid tumors she later underwent surgery to correct; on top of this, though, Twigs makes reference to the places in which she found strength and hope.
Magdalene is empowering in its soft-hearted nature; its openness leads to a place for listeners to call home. It’s the delicate sound of an artist very carefully piecing herself back together and despite the underlying grapple with darkness, Magdalene is a comfort and a triumph.