An Afrofuturist Kate Bush with some fierce pole-dancing moves, FKA Twigs lept from kinetic music video extra to among the most electric of electronic pop acts with her debut LP1 five years ago. On Magdalene, her long-brewing followup, she moves to the next level, making music that resists being pinned by genre — or even as merely music, so integral is choreography, filmmaking, and photography to what she does. Few current artists (Beyoncé and Bjork come to mind) have made the visual feel so organically integral to their sound.
That’s not to say Magdalene comes up short musically; the sound’s kaleidoscopic. The multi-tracked vocals of “Thousand Eyes” begin like medieval music, Hildegard Von Bingen floating over sub-bass menace, a song about a separation that, rather than leaving the singer lonely, leaves her in a frightening crowd of people, or personas. “Home With You” is a whispered piano-ballad rap with a shout out to the album’s Biblical namesake, plus a sneered observation that you’ve “never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi.” On “Sad Day,” she spins an earworm melody with her avine soprano and high-tea phrasing over murky beat-fractals. The psychedelic r&b of “Holy Terrain ft. Future” is a creative pile-on also shaped by Jack Antonoff, Skrillex, Sounwave, and Les Mystére des Voix Bulgares, the Bulgarian choral group, who get looped into a haunting sort of trap pygmy-chant. It takes nothing from the originality of Twigs’ work that the latter echoes Kate Bush, ditto the lyrical nods elsewhere to “Running Up The Hill” and “This Woman’s Work,” gestures that by now should be equated to architects referencing gothic doorways or rappers paraphrasing Biggie — an artform’s foundational bedrock. Ditto for the whiff of Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” in the meditative opening piano chords of “Fallen Alien,” which shifts in and out of a cacophony of grime beats, a see-saw of EDM and distressed chamber music.
Twigs’ lyrics conjure struggle, which one imagines she’s had plenty of recently, between major surgery and a public breakup with paparazzi–magnet Robert Pattinson. But like UK peer Charli XCX, she has the artistic support of a smartly-curated collaborative team. On LP1 it was Arca, Sampha, Emile Haynie and Devonté Hynes. Here it’s Nicolás Jaar, Benny Blanco, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), and Lewis Roberts (Koreless), among others. But the music runs counter to mainstream pop groupthink, and for all the digitalia, Magdalene sounds like the messy, eccentric product of human hands, not algorithms. You can see those hands in the video for “Cellophane,” hoisting the artist up a pole, where she moves through backslides, chopsticks, ballerina spins and butterflies like it ain’t no thing — although like her album, it sure as heck is.