By Troy Hasselman, November 26 2019 —
Perhaps no other subject has been more thoroughly explored in popular music than breakups. Albums from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreaks to Lorde’s Melodrama and countless others have all been built around lost love, and have all solidified their places within the canon. With subject matter as heavily explored as this and with so many undeniable classics built around it, it’s a topic that demands thoughtfulness and subtlety.
FKA twigs delivers just that on her new album Magdalene, made in the aftermath of her 2017 breakup with actor Robert Pattinson. The album explores the mental and physical toll of the end of their relationship while maintaining a sonic ingenuity and inventiveness that makes this one of the year’s most intriguing albums.
The album opener “thousand eyes” begins with twig’s looped voice gradually building on itself and turning into a phantom Gregorian chant that acts as a foundation for twig’s minimalist lyrics about her slowly shattering relationship. This is followed by “home with you” which masks twig’s vocals in distortion over some unsettling piano chords before morphing into an operatic, ambient finish that lends a launching pad for her virtuosic singing.
A moment from the album that perhaps works better on paper than on record is the duet between twigs and Atlanta-rapper, himself no stranger to sonic-pushing breakup albums, on “holy terrain” with Future taking on a similarly heartbroken persona as twigs. While this should work, it doesn’t quite pull together and falls short of the best duet between Future and an R&B singer — 2017’s “Selfish” with Rihanna from Hndrxx.
The album closes with the sparse piano ballad “cellophane” built around the refrain of “Didn’t I do it for you?” where twigs ruminates on all of herself that she has poured into the relationship to no avail. The song is made more impactful by what isn’t in it and is the single most emotive and evocative song of FKA twigs’s career.
The album deals heavily with the physical toll of heartbreak, inspired by some medical surgeries that twigs went through in the aftermath of the end of the relationship. This fits in heavily with the already present physicality of her music and colours the lyrics of the album with lines like “Icy is my body heat” and “possessive is my daybed” illustrating this. Magdalene is a fantastic synthesis of the experimental and the emotional. It is musically innovative while being lyrically resonant, in a balancing act that few albums can pull off. It is reminiscent of my favourite album of last year — Low’s Double Negative — in making this balance seem so effortless. Magdalene shows FKA twigs bringing herself further into the stark electronic experimentalism of so many of the albums collaborators like Nicolas Jaar while maintaining the humanity that makes her music so emotionally jarring.