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Creativity and catharsis come hand-in-hand in FKA Twigs’ ‘Magdalene’

  • Culture
Jasmine Hearn, BA Global Liberal Arts

The process of healing is a silvery thread woven through the album’s nine tracks.

As the year draws to a close, FKA Twigs’ record ‘Magdalene’, released on 8 November by Young Turks record label, stands out as one of the most unique and spiritually conscious albums to come out of 2019. Twigs (Tahliah Barnett) combines innovative and slick production with lyrics that illuminate her ascension to a more self-assured woman. The process of healing is a silvery thread woven through the album’s nine tracks, as Twigs offers an intimate reflection of her traumatic experiences with physical and mental illness. In the years that have passed since her last record (‘M3LL155X’, released in 2015) she has struggled with fibroid tumours and been forced to confront some heavy psychological issues following the conclusion of the long-term relationship. These themes have distinctly drifted to the forefront of Twigs’ consciousness, and what has come out of her experience epitomises the power of music to empower both the creator and the consumer. Eerie yet captivating, the record can be seen as a voyage through Twigs’ emotional landscapes. As listeners, we are fascinated by the aptitude with which she combines intimacy and art-pop, spirituality and electronica. 

A large part of what makes the record so distinctive is Twigs’ ability to draw on such a large number of genres. The choral acapella featured on the album’s opening track, ‘Thousand Eyes’, has a sinister yet medieval quality: the refrain, ‘it’s gonna be cold with all those eyes,’ evokes Twigs’ struggle to come to terms with her position in the public eye. The track descends into contorted disarray, creating almost an underwater effect. Similarly, in ‘Home with You’, her vocals are distorted and husky against robotic piano chords, before the pitch and intensity rise to a disturbing crescendo of inner turmoil. Twigs crisply cuts away to angelic acapella, ‘I didn’t know that you were lonely,’ jarringly reminding the listener of the intimacy of her past relationship. There is something tragic about the juxtaposition of the ferocity of her mental battles with her bittersweet memories of affection. 

Meanwhile, Twigs’ reflection on her recovery process frames the album as she projects light onto her experience with depression. Achingly honest ‘Daybed’ illustrates the haziness and immobility of mental illness from the perspective of Twigs, possessed by her living room furniture, day by sluggish day. Parallel to her experience with mental illness is her recovery from the surgery she underwent in December 2017. She describes her experience as ‘living with a fruit bowl of pain’, likening the size of the tumours to ‘two cooking apples, three kiwis, and a couple of strawberries’. Indeed, this image finds a place in the album’s lyrics as she evokes ‘apples, cherries, pain / Breathe in, breathe out, pain’ in ‘Home with You’. Yet, crucially, Twigs also associates this image with the reclamation of her body and sexuality: ‘Taste the fruit of me / Make love to all you see.’ This triumph of confidence and inner power over pain and discomfort is what characterises the album.

‘Magdalene’ is exceptional in its sonic quality; there is nothing else on the music scene right now that sounds quite like it. The use of sound is daringly experimental: it is harsh, metallic, and even post-apocalyptic at points, whilst her deft overlay of tender, candid lyrics remind us of her identity. Yet despite its eccentric aural quality, the album is by no means uncomfortable to listen to. ‘Magdalene’ is a fascinating exploration of Twigs coming to terms with finding power in her femininity, sexuality, and psychology. She is, once again, a pioneer of the parallel processes of creativity and catharsis.

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