FKA Twigs is the ultimate multimedia artist, almost to the extent that experiencing some of her work without interacting with all of the possible elements can lead to confusion or to what some may perceive as being an unfair evaluation.
M3LL155X (frequently referred to by Twigs as ‘Melissa’), her third EP, has an accompanying short film that incorporates four of the five songs included here. In addition to dancer, singer and performance artist, you can almost add feminist, gender studies and queer outlaw commentator to FKA Twigs’ abilities. She is without a doubt a crucial and desperately needed force of nature.
The 16 minute video is her most ambitious and contextual yet, and it’s here that Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs, selectively reveals what these songs mean to her. But without the all-arresting visuals, how well does the purely musical element of FKA Twigs stand up on its own?
The clanking and creaking, whirring and hissing soundscape that Barnett has already become synonymous with is used with almost punishing effect throughout the majority of M3LL155X. ‘I’m Your Doll’ and ‘Mothercreep’ would benefit from a more sympathetic and original score to help prop them up, with neither of the tracks making the most of Barnett’s songwriting strengths. This problem occasionally occurred in the running order of last year’s frequently stunning LP1 and is (maybe surprisingly because featured producer Boots has not collaborated with Barnett before) replicated here. The two songs stay very much within her comfort zone.
‘In Time’, the EP’s highlight, builds and improves upon this sound and proves, as already displayed on ‘Two Weeks’, ‘Video Girl’ and ‘Papi Pacify’, that Barnett can write melodically rich and arresting, trance-like songs that can stop the listener bang in their tracks.
Towards the end of ‘In Time’ there is an effect that sounds like massive, backwards-synced thunderclaps and these are employed over Barnett’s most urban – and populist – lyric yet: ‘I’ve been feeling the same in the club, in the rave … you got a goddamn nerve.’ The metallic thunder is appropriate given the anger and horror in Barnett’s manipulated vocals and the club cliché lyric is fantastically disorientating just because it is so unexpected.
‘Glass and Patron’, already heard some months earlier, has a ferocious, if tightly coiled, and spare energy which has rarely featured in Barlet’s work to date. ‘Figure 8’, which refers to the hand movement made whilst voguing, opens the album and is another crawling and trappy trip-hop track, which incorporates the line ‘hold that pose for me’, which returns again in ‘Glass and Patron’. Neither song is your archetypal ballroom house track, but ‘Glass and Patron’ has a flippant and charged attitude which, when combined with its audacious but detached lyric (‘Am I dancing sexy yet? Will you fuck me while I stare at the sun?’), helps make sense of the ravishing, runway-competition video.
Of all FKA Twigs’ releases, it is probably significant that M3LL155X is her least accessible and most determinedly angular so far. Barnett has confirmed that this release represents a voice that is part of her – a female energy which is displayed via comradeship between other women, gay men and abuse victims, through motifs of pregnancy and surreal motherhood in the long-play video – but she has also said that this aspect of herself may not feature as prominently in future recordings.
When experienced as an audiovisual whole, M3LL155X is a spectacle that is entertaining, disturbing and important. But when these visuals are removed there is a disconnect that, on this occasion, FKA Twigs has only partially resolved.