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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Album / Video of the week, Nov. 17

Album of the week: FKA Twigs - Magdalene

This record shot up the RYM charts really quickly - released on November 8 and made its way into the RYM top-3 for 2019 literally in a matter of days - so, naturally, my curiosity was piqued. Apparently, Tahliah Barnett, a.k.a. the unpronounceable FKA Twigs, passes all the preliminary modern requirements for critical appraisal with flying colours - she is a woman, she is of Jamaican origin, she is based in London, she has ambitions, and she is all about mixing mainstream musical and production values with indie-styled artistry. She also has an immaculate soprano (way too glossy and voice-talent-show-ish for my tastes, though), lyrical talent, and a desire to artistically rehabilitate Mary Magdalene by turning her into a symbol of her personal passions and sufferings (yes, this is officially a breakup album).

In a nutshell, the description for this album is - take your average Ariana Grande, cross her with a modest, but not off-putting, amount of Medulla-era Björkisms and Hounds Of Love-era Kate Bushisms, and see what happens. I appreciate the effort and don't want to accuse the record of a lack of sincerity, but the usual problem with such things is that there is simply too much synthetic gloss around for this sincerity to be convincing. "Glitch pop" is a very stupid thing per se, and Barnett's vocals are pretty much the only thing that is interesting about the production - everything else is just your run-of-the-mill loops and hoops. But even the vocals are way too glossy: each new track just gets me more and more puzzled about why I am supposed to prefer any of this over the average Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, or, indeed, Ariana Grande. (Or perhaps I'm not supposed?). The actual vocal hooks are extremely shallow and don't seem to break any new musical ground, and the lyrical depth is nothing to write home about ("I'm fever for the fire / True as Mary Magdalene / Creature of desire" might probably offend the Church, but even so we're hardly talking Last Temptation Of Christ level of quality here).

Overall, this is precisely the kind of thing I wrote about in my last essay - a musical piece whose artistic ambitions are severely undermined by having "corporate culture" tattooed all over it, and by the "we have it easy" issue, because, allegedly, it's all about SUFFERING and PAIN, but there's not a single song here that would seriously lead me to empathize with the lyrical hero. Of course, it very well might be YOUR thing, but I need my liquor much, much stronger than this.

She does have a fine voice, admittedly - here's a number that features at least a couple examples of gorgeous phrasing (if only they were framed in a better musical context):

(PS: All said, Magdalene is at least listenable, which is much more than I can say about her first album, which is just a never-ending monotonous string of electronic pulses and hushed kitten vocals.)

Video of the week: Aimee Mann - Live At St. Ann's Warehouse

Since we are still on the subject of strong women making clever and emotionally resonant musical points, this is as good a spot as any to throw in some support for one of the most underrated ever, and one of my favorite singer-songwriter ladies of all time. If you have any interest in Aimee at all, her only live DVD, released in 2004, is a MUST. It features her at her absolute peak, right off the success of Bachelor No. 2 and Lost In Space, her most fully realized albums, offers a fine setlist, and she is just so unbelievably cool to look at - a strong feminist personality who actually knows how to write interesting melodies, marry them to intelligent lyrics, and construct a uniquely atmospheric musical personality on top of it all. (And, hush hush hush, having an actual band playing live instruments around her doesn't hurt things a bit - who would have thought?). No production gloss, no glitzy imagery, and no problems at all getting me to empathize. Here's one of my favs from Lost In Space:


  1. I must be really jaded then, because I saw this character all over rate your music and my immediate reaction was hard pass

  2. Hello George. Have you had a chance to attend GSY!BE show in Moscow? Of great interest would be if you so did your opinion.

  3. "FKA" is not unpronounceable. It's an acronym for "formerly known as."