Album Review: FKA twigs, “M3LL155X EP”

FKA twigs M3LL155X EP
(Young Turks – August 14, 2015)
(Trip Hop, Experimental, Pop)
Review by Stig Rasmussen

Trip-hop is dead, long live trip-hop. Before the 21st century explosion of cringe-worthy genre monikers, trip-hop emerged from Bristol, England to captivate listeners and make musicians tagged with the genre identifier run away from it. Tricky, formerly of Massive Attack, was probably the highest-profile “pure” trip-hop artist, and he always shrugged off the label, saying that if the trip-hop sound was so indebted to him, why don’t they call it “Tricky-hop?” This prelude is because FKA twigs sound, especially on M3LL155X EP is essentially a 21st century iteration of trip-hop, and it is brilliant.

FKA twigs melds crushing bass lines, skittering hi-hats, bent and shifted vocals, and narcotized hip-hop beats to craft a wobbly, dark, beauty of an album. The dark elements in the mix serve to highlight the clarity of her vocals, when she chooses not to warp them to suit the mood. Even through all the innovative oddity, M3LL155X has pop at its heart. Both “I’m Your Doll” and “Glass & Patron” are catchy-as-hell leftfield pop bombs, and the other three tracks on the EP, “Figure 8,” “In Time,” and “Mothercreep” are also excellent if not quite as directly accessible. In fact, for a collection of songs that use abstract sound palettes, M3LL155X hangs together as one tight statement of intent. FKA twigs also released a 17-minute video to accompany the EP’s surprise release, and the imagery is stunning. Clearly, this is a very intentional EP and not just a collection of recently recorded tracks released to appease eager fans.

Lyrically, M3LL155X‘s main themes seem to be femininity and power. FKA twigs takes the idea of woman-as-beautiful-object and turns the idea on its head by emphasizing the power held by the idolized and objectified. She maintains vulnerability and affection without conceding any power or agency. Like the music that supports it, the lyrics here show a full, singular, multifacted personality.

Something special is going on here. It’s a disservice to confine FKA twigs to traditional genre-tropes like trip-hop, R&B, or Pop. FKA twigs is operating as an auteur, using the sounds and structures that best serve her vision for the final product. Often, the full scope of that vision can’t even be contained by one medium – just look at the aforementioned video released alongside this EP, or the videos released for her EP1, or her Soundtrack7 residencey at the Manchester International Festival. Her true peers are singular artists like Bjork, Prince, Karen Dreijer-Andersson, or Janelle Monae, all of whom have both the vision and talent to create something completely new by bending old tropes to their will. This isn’t 21st century trip-hop. It shares some of the same roots and signifiers, but like Tricky with his Maxinquaye, FKA Twigs is creating something that is completely its own. Let others try and follow.

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