Swedish singer Lykke Li has faced criticism for hitting the same note of tortured, romantic pop for four albums now. On her new EP, Still Sad Still Sexy, she offers more of the same. But she does try to pivot. Rather, she lets collaborators try to pivot for her. Still Sad Still Sexy is equal parts new songs and alternate versions and remixes from her most recent album, last year’s So Sad So Sexy.
The EP begins with the two remixes. First is “Sex Money Feelings Die.” Little of the original track has changed: Snowsa’s production is just a bit more expansive, and Lil Baby raps over it. “Two Nights Part II,” however, has been given a full facelift by Skrillex. Now, the song’s fit for an arena, but at the cost of its soul. Sounds of glass shattering add as much grit to the overproduced track as a pair of H&M pants with prefab holes in the ass and knees. Ty Dolla $ign enters “Part II” early, rapping a full-on finger-snapping dance beat blooms. The original version doesn’t build to anything until the end, when Portland rapper Aminé chimes in. However, Aminé has been completely erased from the remix.
Following the remixes, the EP only gets better. Its two new songs, “Baby Doves” and “Neon,” will likely please fans of So Sad So Sexy, as they tread the same placid pop territory she is so accustomed to.
It’s difficult to not think of another Swedish pop singer, Robyn, when listening to “Baby Doves.” Both hit on the same vein of emotion with the similar styles of pop. (It doesn’t help that Lykke Li sings of diamond dust while Robyn sings of stardust on “Because It’s in the Music.)
Also like Robyn, Lykke Li can amp up her songs to fill large venues. (Li does play major events like Glastonbury, and Lollapalooza, Coachella, after all.) That is to say, Li’s chosen collaborators for the EP don’t serve the songs. If anything, Skrillex and co.’s over-production send the songs over the top.
The best parts of Still Sad Still Sexy are her alternate versions of “So Sad So Sexy” and “Deep End.” The gentle, airy piano version of “So Sad So Sexy” shows that less is more. It peels away the original’s digitized background vocals and electronic textures. If performed live, the song would be the moment when a spotlight shines on her, and her fans illuminate the arena with their cell phone lights.
The alternate version of “Deep End” is also piano-based and airy. It remains low-tempo, but her voice is multi-tracked and modified, stripping the song of its intimacy. But with more layers and textures, listening to the song, you truly feel like you’ve fallen in deep. Without the original trap beat, you feel adrift.
The experiments on Still Sad Still Sexy don’t work, but it’s always better to be adrift and searching for something that does than repeating oneself.
Review by Leslie Chu