M3LL155X, a Two Part Review

UK-Based singer, songwriter, and dancer FKA Twigs (Born Tahliah Barnett) is known for her unorthodox, abstract, and erotic approach to pop and trip-hop music.  Through lyrical and visual mediums, Twigs astounds the public for the second time, the first being the release of her first full length album, LP1, back in 2014.  This time around, Twigs has created a five track EP accompanied by a short film, both titled “Melissa” (styled M3LL155X).  This article is two different critiques within itself: a segment about the musical aspect of the EP and the other about the visual aspect.  

The Music

The musical portion of M3LL155X is nothing short of astounding.  This EP includes plenty of experimentation, whether it be with the auto tune of Twig’s vocals or the strange percussion that we’re exposed to during some of the tracks.  A lot of people consider Twig’s last release, the full length album LP1, a defining part of her career, where she “discovered her sound”.  If that is the case, then Tahliah is perfecting that sound in this mysterious, passionate, and overall wildly entertaining and enjoyable EP.

The first track of the five total is titled "Figure 8" (not to be the confused with the far less appealing Ellie Goulding track). The track opens with an alluring, electronic base, which, accompanied by the whispering and soothing voice of Twigs, creates an unlikely yet highly appealing ensemble.  The crackling percussion, along with the overall lo-fi synthesizers give “Figure 8” a raw feel.  Perhaps the most memorable moment of the whole piece is the bridge, where Twig’s vocals are auto tuned to sound darker, almost demonic, which really adds to the obscure a mysterious aesthetic we know and love Twigs by.  Vocally, Twigs uses the same whispering, sexy tone that we’ve been hearing since her very first EP.  Although, like always, Twigs sounds phenomenal singing in this style, the changes in tone seen in some of the later tracks of M3LL155X are just as great. The track’s lyrics talk about her style of dance (vogue) along with how she is both strong and vulnerable. Overall, a gorgeous song that included a few instrumental and vocal experiments, but Tahliah doesn’t truly step outside her comfort zone until later in the EP.

Followed by "Figure 8" is the track "I'm Your Doll" which is, like the first track, is the same style of singing we're used to hearing from Tahliah.  The song starts out acapella and then progresses into an eerie, electronic vibe similar to that of "Figure 8".  What really sets "I'm You Doll" apart from the first track is the simplistic yet powerful lyrics.  Through the lyrics, Twigs tells the story of being used sexually and emotionally by one of her previous partners.  Lines like,“I’m your doll, Dress me up I’m your doll,” disturbingly objectify Twigs as a doll, easily manipulated and controlled.  This topic leaves the usually erotic and sexy-sounding Twigs appearing rather vulnerable.  Although this track left me wanting more, the intense theme Tahliah conveys definitely adds to the emotion that makes “I’m Your Doll” a unique and strong track.

The third track, one of my two personal favorites from the EP, is titled “In Time”.  Like the previous two songs, Twigs starts off singing beautifully, as always, over a repetitive keyboard part, which adds to the very dreamy and digital vibes that really define M3LL155X as a piece of art.  As the song progresses into the pre-chorus, the listener is surprised with the entrance of high pitched, whining synthesizers which, along with the slightly more aggressive singing of Tahliah, gives the track, so far, a more trip-hop sound.   The chorus is delivered and the whispering, sensual Twigs we know best has disappeared, replaced with an aggressive, frustrated Tahliah backed with another autotuned voice, giving the chorus an almost inhuman feel.  Not to mention the outstanding instrumentals, a booming base and a beautiful, eerie, and almost exotic synth part, during this portion of the song.  This, easily, is one of the strongest points in the entire EP.  In the breakdown, the autotune is more heavily applied, building on the inhuman sound from the chorus.  The outro has Twig’s singing desperately and passionately, a strong ending to a very strong piece.  In the lyrics, Twigs tells of a relationship that is falling apart, but she desperately wants to mend it.  Her partner, on the other hand, is fine with splitting apart.  Overall one of the strongest and most emotional songs from not only M3LL155X, but, in my opinion, Twig’s whole career.

Although it’s the fifth and final song in the official track list, “Mothercreep” appears fourth in the short film.  This song starts off mysteriously, with odd and completely discordant sounds going off.  After a brief pause, verse one begins with Twig’s angelic voice sounding timid and regretful.  Tahliah’s masterful use of auto tune is displayed yet again with an her voice, distorted and ominous, repeating “creep mother” between lines.  Throughout the whole track, Twigs sings passionately over a spluttering percussion (similar to the percussion from “Figure 8”) and a warm and dreamy synthesizer.  In an interview, Twigs states that this song is written as an apology to her mother for not being the best daughter she could be.  Instrumentally, this song is nothing special, but the vocal experimentation is definitely a plus.

The final track (at least in the order of the film) is "Glass & Patron", another of my favorite song from the EP.  This track, along with its music video, was released on March 23rd 2015, earlier than the rest of the tracks.  Tahliah also collaborated on this piece with songwriter/producer Boots, who is known for his work with popular artists like Beyonce.  The first verse, per usual for Twigs, starts out soft; the chimes ringing in the background behind Twig’s voice are mysterious, haunting even.  The introduction of a sizzling sound created by synthesizers engenders tension and anticipation for the listener: something is about to happen.  The first verse, and the chaos begins.  The instrumental is an odd mixture of sounds, from an almost gong-sounding percussion to an alien-esque keyboard repeating in the background.  The echoing, mystifying voice of Twigs repeats the same line in an eerie fashion,“1...2...3...Now hold that pose for me”.  After the hook, we as listeners are surprised even more: the second verse is just a variation of the first, but sped up.  This change in tempo caught me off guard, for I’d never even pondered on what a fast-singing Twigs would sound like.  I was definitely not disappointed; Twig’s lyrics were delivered with the fluidity and grace of any other song from the EP.  The astonishing second verse ends, and the hook is delivered again, with a slightly less chaotic but just as enchanting instrumental behind the same eerie words Twigs had been chanting the first time around.  The bridge breaks up the mix of all sorts of electronic sounds with the presence of only an odd, clicking percussion behind Twig’s vocals.  The bridge sees the return of the creepy lyrics muttered during the hook(s) while the instrumental builds up.  A far more intense and electronic version of the bridge is delivered, possibly one of the best moments of M3LL155X.  The song ends with the SAME eerie words from the hook, “Now hold that pose for me” auto tuned to make Tahliah sound demonic.  This song is probably the most perplexing lyrically, for the topic harder to understand than any of the other tracks from this EP.  Twig’s sings about her pleasing her lover and allowing her lover to believe they are in control, while in reality, Twigs is the one in charge.  The Trip-Hop and R&B influences introduced by Boots really made this song something else.  The haunting vocals and chaotic instrumentals made this one of my favorites from all of Twig’s music.

Through M3LL155X, Twigs bridge the gap between pop music and abstract art, two things that other artists would never think of doing.  The trip-hop and R&B inspiration seen in tracks like “In Time” and “Glass&Patron” were an unexpected aspect that definitely did Tahliah a favor.  For Twigs, the goal was to express and develop her feminine being, a being she called M3LL155X, and she achieved just that.  Throughout this EP, we see Twigs at her weakest moments in tracks like “I’m Your Doll”, but we also see her feeling strong and empowered in tracks such as “Glass & Patron”.  Twig’s vulnerability and confidence are really what make her who she is.  

The Art

Audio-visuals are risky projects to take on, considering both aspects need to work in synchronization with each other, pushing the point the art is trying to drive. Harmony is an imperative factor, and if the balance is thrown off, the viewer is instantly disconnected. Despite the contingencies a project like this produces, when done well audio-visuals can become something larger than they are. They become more than a single song, or a music video. When done well audio-visuals become a story, become physical, unfolding beneath your palms like a treasure map. You become part of the world the artist has created for you.

To say the very least, Twigs has done well. The piece is haunting, surreal, it forces you to pay attention. Furthermore Twigs makes you want to pay attention. The album is like her, deep and dark and lovely and utterly wild. It’s edgy, pushing on the boundaries of what other artists would deem too much. What they mean to say is, it’s real. It’s disagreeable in the most beautiful sense.

The first track in the EP, “Figure 8”, sets the precedent for the remainder of the album. We open up with this image of a dulled yellow light, surrounded by a thick underbrush of darkness. As the track moves forward we’re presented with a number of gritty, fleeting shots of an old woman (adorned with jeweled rings and gold teeth) cackling at the camera. Her eyes are sharp, the edge of a serrated knife, the pain of heartbreak. It’s uncomfortable to watch for too long, her twitchy movements sit like sour milk. But this is what she’s intended. With M3LL155X, Twigs pulls you in and throws you back out, until your left spinning and eerily desperate for more. The woman in the visual looks like she has a secret, like she knows something no one else does, like she’s not afraid to use it against you. Twigs notes that the song was written to shed light on the things she’s learned of her femininity through men, the result of being force-fed near acidic ideas from a young age. The video is a snapshot, an old photograph, a lifetime of twisted femininity and sour memories.

Flash forward to “I’m Your Doll”, a song Tahliah wrote at the ripe age of 18, is a live wire.  She says now she's unable to connect with the song at all, each lyric feeling heavy and foreign in her mouth. The visual is cramped, surrounding you on all sides. Gazing down at a nauseatingly claustrophobic scene of a blow up doll (Twigs head attached) and a man glaring at her from afar. His eyes follow her like some kind of insect drawn to light, like she’s something he can stuff in his pocket and take home. “Dress me up I’m your doll, love me rough I’m your doll” Tahliah breathes, like it’s nothing. We’re bombarded by this sinister shot of the man and the ‘doll’ together, and it’s easy to see the whole world revolves around his dominance. His control. At the end (perhaps one of the most important scenes of the whole album) is the deflated doll left alone in the bed. She’s gone so far she’s empty, she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Asking big questions about masculinity and sex, Twigs twists a haunting story of sexual dominance. In many ways, it’s frightening.

The third track in the project is titled “In Time”, and it is perhaps my personal favorite of the whole album. We open to a sleeping Twigs, curled up on the same unforgiving bed we saw in “I’m Your Doll”. The whole music video is painted in a sticky surrealism, highlighting the futuristic noises buzzing in the distance and harsh dance movements that are a constant in this video. It’s so cut off from our apparent reality it draws you into its universe, and ultimately that’s the goal of pieces like this. One thing to note about this song in particular, is it is in some way the climax of the project. Twigs gives birth to rainbow colored paint (many interpret this as symbolism of her creativity in a physical form)  The onlooking man is disgusted, shaking his head and glaring at her with dark eyes. In this particular video, we get to rediscover how amazing Twigs is, not only at singing in gorgeous falsetto, but we also get to unearth how skilled she is at dancing, and using both mediums to convey the message she wants to send. The thing about FKA Twigs is that she generates an unmistakable sense of fierce vulnerability, all while keeping the upper hand. She knows what she wants to create, and she does it.

In the fourth track, “Mothercreep”, we see a serene Tahliah inching her hands across her exposed and swollen stomach. Twigs says this song was written as an apology to her mother, a fleeting song she wrote the first time she realized she wanted to be a “better daughter” and coming to grasp the things she and her mother had disagreed on when she was younger.

“Glass& Patron” is an important part of the piece, following Twigs second birth scene, except this time she’s created an isolated vogue battle in the middle of the woods. ‘Am I dancing sexy yet?” She breathes, bitter dance movements and her distinct chilling voice whistling on in the background of it all. The lyric is the centerpiece of this song, and the question is as much an inquisition as it is a challenge. Twigs stands tall, back straight as she dances over a sleek runway. Flanked by a variety of other uniquely dressed men and women, she stares down the camera like the barrel of a loaded gun. The song is swathed in a dizzying haze of stage light and unnatural movements, driven by its electric veins and effortlessness.

The album will leave you breathless, will leave you half-insane trying to figure out what it all means. Twigs is an enigma, something otherworldly. The art she creates resonates this fact, reflecting unique lyrics and melody along with compelling visual artistry and gripping dances. Twigs says that ‘M3LL155X’ is not an alternate ego she’s constructed for herself, but another facet of the person she’s become. It is a story of her reconnoitering her personal feminine energy. One thing is distinctly clear in this daze of rainbow colored paint babies and runway battles, Tahliah is a gem. It should be extremely intriguing to see her become more and more noticed and acknowledged for her work. If what is to come is remotely close to this EP, we should be thrilled.

You can watch/listen to M3LL155X here.

Article By Malea Moon and Travis Bodell
Art by Kai Jen