The British provocateur’s new EP finds her exploring sexual power dynamics over warped R&B and pop productions.
M3LL155X doesn’t teach us anything new about FKA twigs. The British provocateur’s new EP finds her exploring sexual power dynamics over warped R&B and pop productions, all wrapped in uncanny-valley album art. These descriptors all apply to her breakthrough EP2 and last year’s full-length LP1. (This is the first FKA twigs release with a “proper” title.) What’s different about M3LL155X is that all her familiar hallmarks are taken to the extreme.
M3LL155X finds her usual co-producer Arca replaced by Beyoncé collaborator Boots. Arca’s productions had enough melodic heft to scan as “pop;” Boots has no interest in pop at all. He fills the sonic playing field with digital effects, blasts of harsh noise – pretty much everything except chords and melodies. Twigs stalks the spaces between those sounds, often singing over near-silence before a barrage of effects comes hurtling back in. It’s up to her to provide the hooks, and she does, in bulk, with simple, catchy exhortations like “Let me live,” “I’m your doll” and “mothercreep, mothercreep, mothercreep.”
Her voice sounds louder, clearer, more confident. On opener “Figure 8,” she busts some high notes that are purposeful but consciously showy. She wreaks havoc all over “In Time,” the only non-Boots-produced track, busting a triple-time flow on the chorus and spitting “You’ve got a goddamn nerve” with a level of venom we haven’t heard from the usually calm and collected twigs. The (often mock) vulnerability of her prior work is largely gone; even when she implores her lover, “Dress me up, I’m your doll,” her voice radiates pure power.
Though twigs has always written primarily about sex and relationships, her lyrics are more explicitly coital than ever on M3LL155X; matters of the heart are secondary here to those of her body. Her voice is imperious, and so is her dirty talk, full of commands and “won’t you“‘s. She loves the word “fuck.” Every now and then, she delivers frustrated asides to her lover, as on “Glass & Patron” when she asks, “Am I dancing sexy yet?” And on “I’m Your Doll,” she rebukes her man for “playing with those other girls.”
But you’re unlikely to come out of this album feeling “in the mood.” There’s a tangible creepiness to M3LL155X, and the uncanny aesthetics of her videos and album art seep into her music more than ever here. Pitch-shifted layers of vocals flitter all around the EP, most disarmingly on “I’m Your Doll,” on which a chipmunked twigs doubles the chorus to creepy-cute effect. On “Glass & Patron,” the entire chorus speeds up the second time around. Twigs could have easily just done a faster vocal take, but no. Her voice is obviously digitally sped up, and the way bits of it chip away in the process is unsettling.
More pop-minded listeners, especially ones who fell in love with twigs’ minor hit “Two Weeks,” might be overwhelmed by M3LL155X‘s aggression. Though she mostly does a fantastic job of balancing her pop chops and desire to push boundaries, one song fails in the balance. “In Time” would be a great bit of Top 40 bait if not for the unnecessarily busy production, dominated by a squealing synth that competes with and distracts from twigs’ voice. It’s a worrying sign twigs may be seeking to deliberately downplay her own pop smarts in order to confront her audience.
If twigs wants to eschew pop and fully immerse herself in the avant-garde, she has my blessing. If she wants to scale the charts as her alternative-R&B forebear the Weeknd has done, she’d do a fine job of that as well. But M3LL155X is not a drastic sonic shift. Rather, it’s something even more impressive. By pushing her sound to its outer limits, she’s created a record that sounds at once familiar and exciting.