Swedish indie-pop artist Lykke Li has kept experimenting and evolving since her debut album Youth Novels, and subsequently released an indie-folk album Wounded Rhymes and a more dreamy and acoustic one I Never Learn, which were both received widely critical acclaim.
On her fourth album So Sad So Sexy, Lykke Li transforms from the haunting indie-folk to R&B influenced vibe, whilst maintaining that brooding sonic atmosphere that complements her expressive vocals so well.
The opener of the album, “hard rain”, reveals Li’s different side straightforwardly with fresh Alternative-R&B scene and synthesized vocals. The deep humming bassline, gospel orchestra and her layered vocal penetrate through the sonically synthetic soundscape she delivered, further describing a bitter and lost love in a psychedelic and dreamy showcase.
“deep end”, released as the leading single, outputs a darker and more thrilling energy generated by the percussive beats and trap-inspired tone. The infatuated emotion grows up gradually through the uplifting chorus and groovy hooks. Along with her blurry muttering “Swimming pool, swimming pool, indigo, deep blue, deep blue”, “deep end” somehow delivers a witchy ambiance and regretless emotion.
Starting with a piece of melancholic piano and crystal beats, “two nights” presents the softy with its ballad melody and wistful lyrics. Li’s penetrating vocal reverberates with the piano pieces and percussion, creating a dark-tune minimalism and airy traces subtly. In the second part, a trap-influenced vibe that is crafted by American rapper, turning the track into a different hip-pop dimension.
“last piece” continues to deliver a subdued and airy vibe. Her dreamlike vocal hovers above the synthesized beats, percussive drums and misty waves, softly crafting a sad feeling of being hurt. “jaguars in the air” delivers the same mellow texture with its acoustic guitar and dreamy vibe, yet the atmosphere is more bright.
If “last pieces” is covered by fog, then “jaguars in the air” could be described as a ray of sunshine that filtered through the mist. “sex money feelings die” drags back to the urban vibe with its groovy trap-beats. The addictive hooks and psychedelic synths deliver a nocturnal clubbing scenario, which could be a potential track being played in the nightclub.
The album’s title track, “so sad so sexy”, reaches the climax of her aching feeling and sentimental emotion. The mid-tempo dark-ballad crafted by ghostly vibe, echoing synths and hip-pop influenced beats describe a depressing break-up moment when she sings “I was only lying when I looked in your eyes / Now I’m lying with you one last time”. The mixture of melancholic melody and aesthetic sadness perfectly matches the title “so sad so sexy” – a combination of sorrow and beauty.
“better alone” conveys a sober self-reflection and ultimately steps out from the wallowing in an intoxicating relationship in the last few tracks. It’s moody and slow-burning, reviving a letting-go scenario when she finally admits “I’m better alone than lonely here with you”. “bad woman” is an unapologetic confession that exposes her problems and insecurities along with her true-feeling towards a relationship.
Unlike the previous darkness and bitterness that once delivered by the hip-pop influenced vibe and trap tune, “utopia”, however, creates a dreamy and luminous vibe with its acoustic instrument pieces.
Lyrics like “We could be the most transcendent / Go deep like Dylan” depicts a surreal image with a sincere and soulful confession. Her soft yet husky vocal interweaves with the flicking keys, delivering an ethereal tranquility along with its peaceful melody and curing lyrics and ultimately ending the album with a hopeful vision.
Even though her vocal performance and production ability may not be as strong as her last two magnificent albums, So Sad So Sexy is still a mature album crafting an emotive expression. This is an audacious step to experiment to a new territory in her music career, proving her diversity in music genres and showing us a fresh color of herself.
Purchase Lykke Li’s So Sad So Sexy album on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Neo Chen