In todays vast, and often uncompromising, popular music scene, conceited or dishonest representations of sexuality and liberation are easy to find. The ever-growing crowds of trend-hungry enthusiasts are fast to latch on to even the slightest whiff of edge in a musical release – as long as it isn’t too honest, too raw. How, then, can artists break through wide-spread expectation and create an artistic, honest and relevant ode to such tender topics while keeping intact innovation and integrity? If you must know the answer to this pressing inquiry, look no further than FKA Twigs’ expansive EP and fourth studio release, M3LLI55X.
On M3LLI55X, FKA Twigs continues her foray into head-expanding electronic R&B with penetrating eroticism, otherewordly soundscapes and harsh subject matters.
M3LLI55X (Pronounced “Melissa”) was an unexpected release, emerging in August accompanied by a dark, mind-bending video to accompany its five tracks. You would be forgiven for thinking that Twigs might have felt some pressure after the critical and commercial success of her previous studio releases, both EP1 and EP2 along with the crushing revelation that was LP1. Twig’s seemed to hit her true stride in the latter, managing to blend her already established experimental, industrial R&B sounds with some more widely appealing pop hooks and textures. Singles from LP1 such as Two Weeks and Video Girl solidified Twigs as a true musical talent with a penchant for blending glorious tracks with exciting visuals produced in accompanying videos.
In M3LLI55X, FKA Twigs further explores her enduring, unique style with a series of head-expanding adventures in electronic R&B. Twigs, already well known for her use of electro, trap-tinged percussion and minimal arrangements, kicks off M3LLI55X with the sounds of first track, Figure 8 that sounds as though it was conceived in a post-apocalyptic warehouse using only pieces of scrap metal and machinery. Figure 8 meanders and pulsates in a disturbing trance of layered percussion and walls of synthetic bass paired with FKA Twigs’ signature breathy vocal musing on an ominous angle of maternity which is a recurring theme in M3LLI55X. Throughout, Twigs often procures an unfamiliar tinge of power and desperation in her voice when she sings in her chest range that is a welcome change from her airy falsetto.
Erotic imagery is a recurring theme in many of Twigs’ recordings and is given a particularly twisted homage in some of the album’s stand out tracks such as I’m Your Doll, the music video for which portrays Twigs as a human blow-up doll. “Love me rough” she pleads in her gorgeous, angelic falsetto, making one feel almost intrusive into the depths of her fantasies. Her ethereal whimper is also prevalent in Glass and Patron, a ballad of liberation and fantasy realized in the now familiar, angel of death soundscapes that brush the surface of every track on M3LLI55X, tying them together nicely.
Interestingly, M3LLI55X seems a step away from LP1’s more pop-tinged choruses and textures, and returns to more experimental sounds and extremely harsh subject matter and thus, may not appeal to as wide an audience. However, those that enjoy a foray into the dark and twisted mind of a genius will be in for a treat. In Time being perhaps the most straightforward in terms of hooks is a cutting poem of longing and jealousy; again we hear Twigs’ almost frustrated forlorn chest voice power in the chorus.
Whilst M3LLI55X explores the darker side of experimental R&B, there are hints of familiar and popular flavours such as the relentless click of high hats heard in the trap music style, sometimes explored by The Weeknd, Tyga and even Beyoncé. Mothercreep expands on the edgy maternity theme established in Figure 8 and is perhaps the most fearsome in terms of lyrics and instrumentation on the EP. Blending light vocals with forceful bass and percussion akin to the serrated edge of the saw provides a perfect balance of unnerving ecstasy.
Ultimately, M3LLI55X won’t be for everyone, it’s minimal instrumentation and otherworldly soundscapes along with its penetrating lyrics may not be for the faint of heart. But for those who are willing to take the leap, who are willing to witness an artist at the peak of her expression, M3LLI55X will not disappoint. Rather, it will wrap you in its magnificent black wings and comfort you through the contorted twists and turns of its darkest moments. Each listen will entice you into new discoveries of this vast and ambitious musical exploration. Be sure to watch the accompanying videos for maximum effect.