Review | FKA twigs - MAGDALENE
MAGDALENE is one of the most cathartic records released all year, and also one of the most beautiful.
After splitting from her fiancée Robert Pattinson in 2017, Tahliah Barnett, or FKA twigs, has had a tumultuous end of the decade. Going through her breakup, alongside having benign uterine tumours removed after causing excruciating pain for several months, Barnett has dealt with intense physical and mental agony. Initially scheduled for a release at the end of October, the release of MAGDALENE was pushed back two weeks. Now officially released, Barnett cuts through the short runtime of 38 minutes and channels her agony into a record that puts her voice as the main focal point – not just in her songwriting, but also how she expresses the painful ordeals of her daily life.
Within MAGDALENE, there are themes of a religious undertone. An obvious ode to this motif is the track ‘mary magdalene’, named after the religious figure associated with Jesus. Beginning with a beautiful sequence of strings and synths, the track abruptly turns into a passage of Barnett’s subtly auto-tuned vocals, revealing itself as a prime example of how intricate MAGDALENE can turn into at any moment. The opener ‘thousand eyes’ sets this religious foundation from the start of the record, sounding like it would fit perfectly into a church hymn through the fantastic production overseen by Barnett as an executive producer. Producer credits vary throughout MAGDALENE, although Nicholas Jaar, one of the decade's most well-known electronic artists, is credited as a main co-producer. However, other names such as Daniel Lopatin (also known as Oneohtrix Point Never), Kenny Beats, Jack Antonoff and Skrillex take varied production and writing credit across the nine tracks. Jaar’s influence on the production side of MAGDALENE provides a fresh approach to Barnett’s vocals. Ambient-inspired passages roll across from track to track, such as ‘home with you’, which shows Barnett spilling her heart out about heartbreak and directly referencing her surgery (“apples, cherries pain / breathe in, breathe out, pain”). However, tracks such as ‘sad day’ and ‘holy future’ provide a more beat-oriented focus to Barnett’s work, effectively showing her craft in multiple fields of music and how MAGDALENE shifts in its focus. Although the feature on ‘holy terrain’ by Future is rather tacked on, and feels like a missed opportunity, within album context it fits better than as a single release.
Across the record, Barnett progresses from forlorn singing to furious and irate scorns against the world around her. This change peaks in ‘fallen alien’, with Barnett singing about her heartbreak in surrealist lyricism (“I was waiting for you, I was outside / Don’t tell me what you want cause I know you lie”). Contrasting significantly from the first half, this is a welcome change that works perfectly before with the short two-track run of ‘mary magdalene’ and ‘fallen alien’, which are slower, intimate pieces. Channelling influences of Kate Bush and Björk, they are arguably two of the best tracks on the entire record. Emotionally, the album's intensity peaks with the closer ‘cellophane’. The first single announced for this release, it provides Barnett’s best vocal performance across a simplistic piano-led instrumental. Conveying her anguish about the lingering feelings of regret in her relationship, the track suddenly cuts off at just after three minutes, perhaps an indication of how her and Pattinson’s relationship ended due to media influence. ‘cellophane’ is an accurate summary of MAGDALENE: a forlorn, cathartic release that ends a chapter in Barnett’s life.
MAGDALENE is a beautifully sculpted record, matching its album cover in evoking unsettling emotions in the listener. Nearing the end of 2019, and the 2010s as a decade, Barnett has released one of the most outstanding albums of the year that listeners can empathize with – both for themselves with their own heartbreak, as well as Barnett’s pain.
Best Song: "cellophane"
Worst Song: "holy terrain"