The official party line is that Lykke Li has attempted to capture the R&B-tinged sad-pop zeitgeist (think Lorde, think Sampha) on her fourth album ‘So Sad So Sexy’. However, having honed her slick and sultry Nordic noir for over a decade – breaking hearts before The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey had even brushed the airwaves – you could argue that Lykke Li was the OG sad-pop millennial.
It was the stark but accomplished dream-pop of 2008 debut ‘Youth Novels’ made her an immediate international art-pop sensation, while the ambitious follow-up ‘Wounded Rhymes’ added a touch more bombast to her tightrope-strut between devastating and danceable. She described lush break-up album ‘I Never Learn’ as the last part of a trilogy. After a four-year wait, during which time she lost her mother and became one herself, Lykke has found herself a new record label, a new home in LA, some new friends and a whole new lease of life. Liberated, she recently described herself to NME as “reborn.”
She soaked up the sounds of California, distanced herself from any ‘indie’ inhibitions and ushered in collaborations with hotshot producers Skrillex, Rostam, T-Minus and DJ Dahi. The result is added colour and definition to Lykke Li’s widescreen melancholia. Opener ‘Hard Rain’ adds a skittering R&B bounce and synth-pop glow to her romantic gloom, while the skittering trap-beat and overwhelming chorus of ‘Deep End’ makes for one of the most unlikely of bangers with the lines: “I wasn’t gonna love you, now I’m so fucking deep.”
‘Two Nights’, a collaboration with Portland rapper Aminé for ‘Two Nights’, is a subtle flirtation with hip-hop, while ‘Last Piece’ and the title track come the closest to the Lykke Li of old, albeit with a modern but classy shimmer. “It’s a sad story, but it’s still our story,” she pines on the arena-ready clap-along ballad of ‘Bad Woman’, before hope emerges again on the opulent ache of closer ‘Utopia’: “I see the dream in your eyes and I want it”.
As always, there are chinks of light breaking through the darkness, only this time they seem all the more dazzling. Indeed, it’s the sun-soaked sorrow of the earworms ‘Jaguars In The Air’ and surefire single ‘Sex Money Feelings Die’ that make for the real peaks. This is how you really do summertime sadness.