Posted on August 18th, 2015 (11:00 am) by Nick Manai

There are a lot of provocative images (a word we will return to in this review) throughout FKA twigs’ 16-minute Video-EP M3LL155X: her head on top of an inflatable sex doll, her male doppelganger who is also a contortionist, an animated and undulating twigs disintegrating before our eyes and an aged necromancer calling to us through her metal grill. But none of these images are as provocative, or illustrative, as twigs as herself, dressed in simple silk pajamas buttoned only at the top, her ripe, pregnant stomach bursting through.

Saussurean semiotics might say that all images are really metaphors, but this one (even for an artist like twigs) is especially explicit. An early press release for this EP describes it as "an aggressive statement conceptualizing the process of feeling pregnant with pain, birthing creativity and liberation." She is an artist at the height of her powers, ripe with ideas that are themselves full of meaning. M3LL155X chronicles her struggle and success with the responsibilities of motherhood.

M3LL155X is not, and I use this phrase with due consideration, a typical EP. What I mean is it is one of the few moments in recent history where the music is only parallel to another mode of expression. FKA twigs began her career in pop music as a backup dancer in music videos so really it should come as no surprise that this release, the follow up to 2014’s pristine LP1, is actually one long video made up of five songs. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but it still is. Here visual imagery, mostly expressed through dance, tells a story as powerful as poetry and evocative as musical vibrations. The images I mentioned above (and more) express anxieties, obsessions and frustrations with love, desire and jealousy.1 The stakes are always high in twigs’ music and even though there isn’t a happy ending, salvation seems to always be behind the curtain, waiting for one touch. As she sings on the ghostly “I’m Your Doll,” “stop playing with those other girls/ you know it drives me crazy/ I feel like a loaded gun.”

The production doesn't always back her up, lacking the decayed pop clarity of LP1. The end of "Glass & Patron" tries, and fails, to match the grandiosity of the videos runway. But elsewhere, like the gospel evocation of "I'm Your Doll" and the haunting beauty of "in time"'s synths she is able to show us the power of music by placing it alongside the power of video.

As twigs, Tahliah Barnett has constantly been tinkering with how to mine creative value from a very unmusical source, an image (usually her own). Her cover art is consistently the most thought provoking and shocking in music today; often deranging her physical features to force uncertainty about body politics, sexuality and simple emotions to emerge. Her videos are of a rare breed that are anticipated autonomously because they are of value, not because the song is popular or because there is a buzzworthy gimmick. On LP1, one of twigs’ most bracing songs was “Video Girl,” where she grappled with image recognition and the isolation the commodification of her likeness was perpetuating. "Is she the girl that's from the video?/ You lie and you lie and you lie," she sang, deflecting all of our praise and our recognition of her work. Now we have been given a story told half in images and half in music, each equally bracing.

The music on M3LL155X is an extension of the music she has been making most of her career. The textures are rich and highly modernistic. They play tricks in your headphones, but are not merely tricky because they are grounded in foundational textures. Her music shares qualities of a movie soundtrack.2 There is a centering force, evocative of emotions like alienation and separation, that forms the epicenter. But this EP is also simply more aggressive than previous efforts. When she sings “in time you’ll learn to say sorry/ and I will play tender with you,” she doesn’t sound ready yet. In the video, after singing these words, she straightens up and focuses her eyes on her lover. Quickly we see his face and then we see twigs pacing the stage, which one might say resembles a boxing ring. She has the look of a fighter appraising the strengths of her next opponent. This image doesn't just speak to relationships. It also speaks to her art, she's asking whose side are you on?

Track List:

  1. "Figure 8"
  2. "I'm Your Doll"
  3. "in time"
  4. "Glass & Patron"
  5. "Mothercreep"

1. [A convenient metaphor for me since I am stressing image.]

2. [That story is impressionistic and deserves the close reading films receive, but I do not think that kind of analysis is suitable for the “review” format. Perhaps that story will appear here on IYS in the near future.]

FKA twigs: M3LL155X
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

79 / 100
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