Is this the Homogenic of the 2010s?
After having marked the contemporary R&B scene with her first two EPs and her futuristic debut LP, FKA twigs delivers a short, unique, sumptuous and unforgettable album, marked by the evils of love breakdown.
It all begins with a vocal caress of infinite tenderness. "thousand eyes" opens where "cellophane", a magnificent single, concludes: a musical piece of confusing beauty and sensitivity. The arrangements overlap, the voice of FKA twigs, aka Tahliah Barnett, multiplies, the electronic layers interrupt the calm. With this new character, the alter ego, MAGDALENE, twigs feels more safe than ever.
The 5 years between "LP1" and "MAGDALENE" have been anything but safe for her: this new celebrity, the public's gaze, 6 tumours operated, having left the singer without any control over her own body... Before being an album, "MAGDALENE" is a journey, an autobiographical work testifying to the recovery and triumph of her interpreter. On her body, on her image, on her music. Thus, FKA twigs imposes with obvious grace this new vision, this time carried by the image of Mary Magdalene, Jesus' lover. Surrounded by a crowd of talented producers and friends (Nicolas Jaar, Jack Antonoff, Arca, Skrillex (lol), Oneohtrix Point Never...), FKA presents a new musical imagination far from any conventions and references.
Playing this control card, FKA twigs offers a disc that frequently plays the instability card to better surprise us, thwart our expectations, overturn us. "home with you", under its apparent delicacy, very quickly reveals a maliciously modulated voice, then immersing itself in a 2-speed structure enriched with distorted basses to end up crescendo on an avalanche of brass and harmonies. A whole epic in one track that goes from noisy or aggressive moments to very soft ones where she sings:
"I, didn't know that you were lonely
If you'd have just told me I'd be home with you
I, didn't know that you were lonely
If you'd have just told me I'd be running down the hills to you"
However, Tahliah Barnett does not only play the contemplative card. Very quickly, her compositions become agitated, swarming, imploding. "sad day", overflowing with inventiveness, superimposed sound layers, without ever neglecting an emotion of incredible power. "holy terrain", a futuristic electro-trap test, supported by a Future at the top of its form for the duration of a particularly introspective verse. It's all about wonder, discovery, passion.
The rare feat of reconciling experimental and accessible seems to be a natural talent for FKA twigs, as "MAGDALENE" allows itself all the experiments without ever rejecting its auditor. The eponymous track, "mary magdalene", offers a chorus imbued with power and sensuality, placing the singer more than ever as a female icon almost Christian... To better ward off this impression with "fallen alien", a raging fire overflowing with anger at the extreme sound and vocal manipulations. "Don't tell me what you want'cause I know you lie." It is no longer time for observation or passivity for the musician. One after the other, "mirrored heart" and "day bed" probe the sublime, the beauty at the heart of the storm, stretching tempo and voice to the point of appeasement. To finally deliver "cellophane", the last stone of the building, intimate and grandiose, logically ending with a last whisper and a delicate piano note. We catch our breath.
With "MAGDALENE", FKA twigs is probably delivering the last major release of this decade. Free and controlled, bold and accessible, familiar and incomparable, this work shatters, moves and has a profound impact. There are not necessarily songs that strike at first sight. It takes a few listenings to get into her world but it's an exceptional record, for a musician now perfectly safe.
Best tracks: "Cellophane", "Fallen Alien", "Mary Magdalene", "Home With You", "Sad Day", "Holy Terrain (feat. Future)", "Thousand Eyes".
Worst track: "Daybed"