FKA twigs' 'M3LL155X', Reviewed

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A few years ago, I heard Junot Diaz speak. He said that the problem with a short story, as opposed to a novel, is that a short story can be perfect. Perhaps that is why artists often refuse to take their EPs seriously. Short releases—“EPs” or “mixtapes” or “demos”—are often an excuse to joke or experiment or even create entire alternate musical personalities. The prospect of attacking an EP seriously is daunting—all flaws are magnified because perfection is within its grasp.

M3LL155X, whatever the hell it is, is perfect. Rarely have five songs sounded so cohesive, or made such a dramatic statement. Damn, this girl is advanced. Damn, she’s beyond us.

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Yes, the music’s technical execution is outstanding, but it is the daring thematic scope of M3LL155X (pronounced “Mellissa”) that separates the album from its peers, all the more impressive for the EP’s small package. M3LL155X’s tremendous density lends itself to a narrative in need of unraveling. Part of that literary sense derives from FKA twigs herself—the EP’s accompanying 16-minute music video explicitly connects power and sexuality through a visual montage of violence-laced seduction, pregnancy, and birth. Devoid of images, the album’s musical and lyrical themes are less overt, though one can still decode within M3LL155X a struggle of sexual power.

“Figure 8”, the album’s opener, begins with twigs—or “Mellissa”—in a pose of weakness. Anchored by the imploration, “Let me live,” the song immediately cedes power to the audience, which it further amplifies through twigs’ own questioning of her fame, asking, “Can you touch it? Is it real?” The music matches this contradictory sense of power and intangibility, juxtaposing silence and distortion to create a soundscape that is typically (for twigs) both sparse and overwhelming. It is an incredibly physical musical landscape, one particularly noticeable while listening through headphones—the music layered as if it echoed across a great room. These intense shifts in volume and tone connote a thinly veiled violence, echoed in lyrics about hard slaps and breaking necks. Yet, the song’s closing sounds are those of sensual pleasure—soaring screams and low, guttural moans.

This troubled coupling of sex and control is particularly highlighted on “I’m Your Doll”, which see twigs playing at sexual vulnerability as a trap. The music slows and calms, relying less on violent falsetto or intense shifts in tone, almost like a lullaby, soothing the listener with the promise of a sexual fantasy. Like a spider feigning submission to achieve dominance, twigs sets up the EP’s second half to reverse the audience’s expectation of satisfaction. “I can’t wait to make your body my own,” she sings as the bass drops on “Glass and Patron”, mere minutes after she lyrically dresses herself as the ultimate symbol of male sexual dominance: a lifeless doll.

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It is with “In Time”, however, the EP’s midpoint, that twigs most fully takes control. Musically, it’s a standout. Lyrically, it’s audacious. As a song, it’s the most complete on the album, fully functioning as both a single and a moment in a larger narrative, boasting what is perhaps the most impressive vocal performance in twig’s career. Varying from pillow-talk whispers to balladeer-like belting to ferocious, hip-hop accented shouts in the chorus, “In Time” showcases twigs as a dominant talent in pop and R&B, pushing boundaries at every level of creative production. She is making the most frightening, sexual, powerful, experimental music today. It is unique music at a unique level—rarely do we encounter someone this young and creative who is also this technically skilled. Seriously, who’s heard shit like this before?

The size, here, plays to twigs’s advantage. The album derives its power from an almost suicidal energy, as if the music the were about to break down the instruments, the deep bass splintering wood, the high falsetto shattering glass. Stretched out even further, one wonders if it would fall apart at the seams. Like the original “Arrested Development”, M3LL155X never had a chance to ruin or contradict itself.

A short story can be perfect. Right now, she’s in the middle of some special kind of story. Only time will tell how the legend of twigs continues.  A