So Sad So Sexy
Lykke Li has always been an outlier of the indie pop world, as her albums have been consistently unpredictable. As she embraces a little more modern dance pop on her new record, she has trouble maintaining her unusual tendencies. While her lyrics are as biting as ever, this album struggles to hit the right balance in energies to be new and definitively Lykke.
The descending vocal hook and harpy-like vocals of “Hard Rain” swell around the strings to create a building energy that plays against its electronic grooves. While there’s a lot of typically contrasting ideas playing in the song, Li’s story and the soft energy around it all slowly make everything come together in a harmonious blend. Hard bass pounds the ears and lets the rushing beats create an usual drive on “Deep End” before Li rips into her chorus with Kanye-like vocal distortion. The song hits some truly invigorating breaks and steady grooves to make for a listening experience that’s as heady as it is easy to dance to.
The unsettling production of “Two Nights” feeds into the song’s paranoid lyricism and lets Li’s story become one of wrongdoing on all sides. Aminé’s verse bring the song into an epic high while Li’s own harmonies create a ghostly energy on the track. “Last Piece” however moves a little too subdued for its own good, and undersells its story while ironically serving it emotionally. It isn’t until it breaks into a loud-and-proud finale that it truly changes things up at all.
A subdued drum beat makes “Jaguars In The Air” strange and intimate, and let the extra vocals become a welcoming air in the track. The quirky hooks and playful delivery give the song a lot of character that helps its weak dynamics. The album’s biggest pop mixes come out on “Sex Money Feelings Die” where party vibes are critiqued under a sublime pop beat. As entrancing as the hoks are here, it almost feels like Lykke could take them even further.
With sparse energy behind her, Li delivers a standard pop ballad on “So Sad So Sexy” while bringing a refreshing commentary on perception. In its final choruses however there is enough of an experimental production going on to make the track a little more exciting. There’s a much more palpable tension to something like “Better Alone” where Li also brings a sense of momentum to her writing. As tender and lyrically deep as it and many tracks like it on the record are, they’re just missing a real edge sonically that Li has delivered in the past to set herself apart.
With an a cappella meets Carly Rae Jepsen energy, “Bad Woman” brings a shocking mix of production and performances late in the album. Using its unusual instrumentation and a story that is too intriguing to ignore, it’s by far one of the most mesmerizing tracks of the record. Despite its boisterous hooks and some creepy production, “Utopia” itself sinks into the same trappings and suffers purely from not bringing enough new sounds to the table.
Words by Owen Maxwell