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Lykke Li - so sad so sexy Music Album Reviews

Lykke Li - so sad so sexy Music Album Reviews
With festival-ready hooks and trap-inspired production, Lykke Li delivers another record about an unraveling romance and the fraught sexuality of its final moments with diminishing returns.

Every track on Lykke Li’s last album, I Never Learn, was a torch song of generous proportions, a thorough sweeping-up of the singer’s shattered heart with reflectively grand production. On so sad so sexy, she immediately extinguishes the flame. “If you like the feeling of a hard rain falling,” she lilts on the opening track in a delicate, descending staccato, “I have a seaful/I can give you an ocean.” Hope springs anew in this refurbished world, but it is not warm; Li’s light voice is pitch-shifted into metallic strips on the song, braided into frosty harmonies over a cybernetic trap-pop beat produced by Rostam. It’s dark dressing for a glimpse of promise, reflective of that hard-fought moment, post-heartbreak, when we assert our abundances, the ones we carry away even with our heads bowed. But there is danger here, too: Li wants a love that feels torrential, isn’t there danger in trying to flood the empty spaces in someone else?

Many of Li’s gifts, including her distressed brand of longing, are on display in so sad so sexy. The hooks are still broad, primed for festival stages with more downcast pop hues. In the four years since the Swedish singer released I Never Learn, she lost her mother and became one herself. But as the title of so sad so sexy suggests, the album is singularly focused. This is another record about an unraveling romance and the fraught sexuality of its final moments. Its glum synths should provide more fodder for the “sad pop” label that has dogged Li for a decade (however reductive and sexist the idea of a female pop star bearing large emotions may be). so sad so sexy may sound like the tagline of a gritty Zoolander reboot, but it is entirely in keeping with the self-seriousness Li has always shown; it is a worthy and even old-fashioned stance that passions needn’t be diluted with irony or self-effacement. But even so, Li cuts a rigidly sober figure for a pop singer.

Trap beats update Li’s heartburn all throughout so sad. Jeff Bhasker, a former producer for Kanye and Rihanna (and partner to Li and father to her child), shows the heaviest hand in the tracks he co-produces. In particular, the slinking “deep end” dices up Li’s much-employed vocal reverb so lines like, “I’m in it, swimming in it/I wasn’t gonna love you, now I’m so fucking deep” land like shrugs, not sobs. The alienation ballad “two nights” piles on the piano and hi-hats before wafting over to the rapper Aminé for a bafflingly Seussian verse (“I’m never bummy or scummy/You’re paranoid like a bunny,” he argues helplessly). Trap, also, seems to bring out inexplicable impulses in Li, too; in the daydreaming “jaguars in the air,” she doesn’t explain this odd visual beyond a blanket escapism: “Vacation forever, baby/I know we gon’ make it someday,” she trills before tirelessly repeating the title to little effect.

All this 808 bass grounds Li’s voice, but it makes for a dull canvas. It peppers nearly every song, amplifying when her lyrics slide from intuitive to broad to cliché. Li surely pulls from awful memories to sing that breakup sex is “so sad, so sexy”—hardly a lie, but not a particularly insightful read, either. She has been far shrewder before, like on her second record, 2011’s Wounded Rhymes, which offered drama in the delivery of beguilingly intimate scenes. Here, she has some similarly pensive moments, but more lines feel glossy and unformed to the point of parody. “Baby don’t you cry/Sex money feelings die/Ladies on my right/Sex money feelings die,” she sings on, yes, “sex money feelings die,” a sullen goth cousin to Lorde’s “Homemade Dynamite.” You can’t argue the truth of being “better alone than lonely here with you,” but there is little here in the songwriting to lift it above a tired sentiment.

The flip side of universal heartbreak, Li knows—as this pain continues to ballast her career—is that personal injury can scan as generic. On so sad, her traumas are too often muted by abstraction and unspecificity. Li is clearly an artist of stormy passions—four albums in, she still seeks the flood of love before she reaches for the life preserver. But by experiencing that same torrent of emotions again and again, it is beginning to lose its impact.

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