The Lowdown: Lykke Li’s fourth record, so sad so sexy, uses an electronic, trap-influenced foundation to convey sentiments such as the pain of heartbreak, the peculiar sensualism that arises from it, and the agonizing cycle of conflicted love. Synth-pop is new terrain for Li, and most artists experimenting with electronics for the first time often create a jumbled mess of clichés, but her first venture into the synthscape is largely successful.
The Good: The album opens with one of its strongest tracks, “Hard Rain.” Li’s vocoded harmonies flicker underneath the main hook, and electronic percussion and soft synths wash over the song’s first verse. Former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij makes an appearance, as well. Not only is he credited as the song’s producer, but he also provides some pitch-shifted, modulated background vocals that play call-and-response with Li. It’s reminiscent of many moments off Rostam’s own Half-Light, which released last year.
After setting a trap-inspired tone, Li goes full-throttle on the following track, “Deep End”. It’s replete with tinny, rolling hi-hats and a half-time tempo. It’s at this moment inso sad so sexy that Li showcases her unapologetic fearlessness for stylistic experimentation. It might not be a far cry from the musical landscape of today, but it’s vastly different from anything Li has previously released, and it’s a welcome sonic shift.
The Bad: The middle section of the record can feel weighed down by the limitations of a trap-oriented production style. “Jaguars in the Air”, “Sex Money Feelings Die”, and the titular track are all great songs on their own, but they feel repetitive when played in succession. Each is roughly the same tempo with similar use of rhythm. However, this feeling of uniformity is broken up by the album’s latter portion. “Better Alone” is another highlight. Li’s captivating vocal performance on the song’s chorus is one of the best on the record. She sounds forlorn and melancholy as she creates a fitting atmosphere for a collection of songs primarily focused on heartbreak.
The Verdict: so sad so sexy demonstrates Lykke Li’s refined prowess for communicating romantic turmoil, and the synth-heavy instrumentation of the record gives the indie-pop artist a new musical space within which to operate. Li understands how to use this electronic ambiance to her advantage, as the album is full of memorable hooks and sleek production. Although the trap-influenced style wears thin at times, so sad so sexy is a superb reinvention of Lykke Li.
Essential Tracks: “Hard Rain”, “Deep End”, and “Better Alone”