Its very hard to describe, much less review, FKA twigs.
Mellissa (stylised as M3LL155X), twigs’ latest EP is an audio/visual piece very much in line with her previous output. Which is to say it’s unlike anything else. It’s a little bit Bjork, a little bit Tricky’s Maxinquaye, a little bit etc… The music is sparse, to the point of being minimal. Thick bass notes and skittering drum beats clash with infrequent bursts of electric noise and light singing that occasionally borders into wailing. The videos that accompany M3LL155X are all shot and lit very starkly. The imagery on the screen, whilst always remaining ambiguous, is never unclear and it should be easy to understand what is going on. And yet, despite these things, M3LL155X is one of the most complex and provocative releases this year.
M3LL155X is primarily concerned with sex. Given that the vast majority of pop music is about sex this shouldn’t come as much of surprise. M3LL155X, however, is not the vast majority of pop music. From the deep bass rumbles that announce opening track ‘Figure 8’ it becomes clear that M3LL155X is going to be more intimate, more personal and a lot more confusing than first imagined. In an age of pornography, M3LL155X is erotica.
The music of M3LL155X is not unlike the music that made up much of LP1. At times that album felt a bit boring, because the minimalism was difficult to sustain over the course of an entire album. M3LL155X feels a lot more coherent, and indeed consistent, because of its length. Clocking in a svelte 18 minutes, M3LL155X moves quite fast, and begs to be re-listened. The minimal nature of the songs gives them a sense of fragility, a sense that they could fall apart at any moment. These aren’t songs that are overly aggressive as such, but there is a sense of tension that pervades much of the ep, if only for this feeling the songs could vanish at any moment. ‘Glass & Patron’ acts as the climax of the album, with glassy percussion and fizzing synth parts, but the highlight, musically, without a doubt is ‘In Time’. The song starts with a gently descending keyboard riff and a simple, almost childlike melody that eventually gives way to a chorus of pulsating electronics and a truly strange vocal part. Somewhat paradoxically it fits into a pop framework almost perfectly, whilst still being very experimental.
Frank Underwood in House of Cards proclaimed that everything is about sex, except for the act itself, which is about power. This idea pervades much of M3LL155X, with the title itself coming from twigs’ name for sense of feminine power. Not since Beyoncé’s self-titled album has there been a record where a female artist whose proudly taken control of their sexuality. The only song that doesn’t assert desire, that bows to the male gaze is ‘I’m Your Doll’, which is both the bravest and most fascinating song on the ep. Twigs has alluded to the fact that the song was written about 10 years ago- when she was 18 – and the lyrics which pander to a man are all the more effective when contrasted against the lyrics on the rest of the album. In short, it highlights how shallow a lot of pop lyrics are. You don’t get this with Taylor.
FKA twigs started her career as a dancer, and as such the visual aspect of her artistry can’t be separated from the musical aspect, and each song on M3LL155X is accompanied by a music video. Twigs’ music videos have always been fascinating, if not downright breathtaking, and this trend continues here. ‘Figure 8’, with its surreal, David Lynch-esque figure is a startling image, and it sets the tone for the videos that follow. ‘In Time’ is the only video that is remotely conventional, and even then twigs embraces an aspect of female beauty that is almost entirely taboo – pregnancy. ‘Glass & Patron’, which was released a few months ago, feels like the climax of all the music videos.
Certainly, it showcases all that is great about twigs, with a subversion of beauty standards, a lot of creepy imagery and a lot of high standard vogue-ing. The visual highlight ofM3LL155X comes in the form of ‘I’m Your Doll’. The video casts twigs as a sex doll, which looks even more unnerving as than it sounds, and sees her being bitten and clawed at by a male figure. A bit on the nose, yes, but a sharp critique of how women are portrayed in music videos since Lily Allen’s ‘Hard Out Here’.
M3LL155X feels perfectly timed, proudly weird and very mysterious, and anybody that’s lucky enough to go to Electric Picnic this week should make it their priority to catch twigs’ debut Irish performance.