FKA twigs, “Magdalene” (Young Turks)
“Magdalene” is the first album by the British singer/producer/choreographer since her 2014 full-length debut “LP1.” It’s a significant leap forward for the artist born Tahliah Barnett, who attained a level of celebrity during her relationship with actor Robert Pattinson, which ended in 2017.
In many ways, “Magdalene” is shaped by that personal drama. Its lead single, “Cellophane” — accompanied by a video showing off twigs’ acrobatic pole-dancing skills — is a stark, graceful song about being unable to escape prying eyes (“they’re waiting, they’re watching”). It could apply to predatory paparazzi, or the lack of privacy that comes with the 24/7 connectivity of daily life.
This album is about rebuilding after heartache and finding independent strength. Twigs, who was raised Catholic, pulls from the New Testament story of Jesus’ companion, celebrating her as a feminist hero in “Mary Magdalene.” That song starts off with a nod to Kate Bush, clearly a model for the songwriter as she explores faith and desire while moving between ethereal atmospherics and harder-edged sounds that are in sync with the physicality on display in her videos.
While drawing from electronic music and hip-hop — Atlanta rapper Future is a guest on “Holy Terrain,” produced with Jack Antonoff and Skrillex — twigs uses those elements to make art-pop that tells a personal story, proudly going its own way.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
DJ Shadow, “Our Pathetic Age” (Mass Appeal)
In the world of “Our Pathetic Age,” Big Brother lives inside millions of cellphones. It’s far from a new idea, but it’s vividly presented with music that toggles between messy and mesmerizing.
Shadow, aka Josh Davis, knows the ins and outs of depicting dystopia through sound, even as he is constantly being measured against his 1996 debut album, “Entroducing,” a master class in the art of sample-based composition. After an 11-track opening “instrumental suite,” the second half turns contemplation into action with a series of vocal tracks.
Hell-raising turntable scratching and bombs-away bass pepper the corrosive street poetry of Nas and Pharoahe Monch in the ferocious “Drone Warfare.” It sets up a series of tracks that suit Shadow’s agitated drums, buzzing, swooping synth textures and canny samples/interpolations. Somehow, the producer merges the distant worlds of doo-wop and ’60s British easy-listening with hip-hop grit to create dynamic tension.
The wild juxtapositions don’t always click, but when they do — as in the Wu Tang Clan-led “Rain on Snow” and the De La Soul churner “Rocket Fuel” — it’s thrilling. Best of all, Shadow reunites with his fellow Northern California underground rap stalwarts in Latyrx and Blackalicious for the ominous “C.O.N.F.O.R.M.”
GREG KOT, Chicago Tribune
• Anyway Gang, “Anyway Gang”
• Joe Pesci, “Still Singing”
• Prince, “1999 Super Deluxe”
• Robbie Williams, “The Christmas Present”