Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson, otherwise known to the world as Lykke Li, never shied away from presenting herself explicitly, flaws and all. The way in which she presents herself, however, never quite felt the same. At times she sounds soft and mischievous (“Complaint Department”) at others desolate and defeated (“Never Gonna Love Again”).
Over a decade since her debut, music in general has only gotten sadder, a trend she may not have started nor even necessarily done first, but certainly one she does very well. For this, So Sad, So Sexy makes for a fascinating listen to hear her borrow from the sounds of today, namely trap-heavy production and layers of vocal processing. This time, not only does she sound sad, she leans into it the way a Scorpio self-destructs a relationship: it just hurts so good.
So Sad, So Sexy is comprised of all the iterations of Zachrisson we’ve come to know so far; the curiosity of Youth Novels, the bombastic fanfare of Wounded Rhymes, the self-deprecation of I Never Learn. This amalgamation of her prior stylings comes packaged new sound for Zachrisson, one decidedly less focused on live instrumentation in favor of synthetic elements. Even the credits on the album display how sharply the production differed from album three to four: I Never Learn strictly came from Zachrisson and Björn Yttling, with a brief appearance by pop savant Greg Kurstin, whereas So Sad, So Sexy boasts credits from a wide range of artists, songwriters, and producers. It’s not her best (nothing is quite like “Get Some”) but it’s a fresh change from an artist who gave us both subtle and surefire signs she might head in this direction.
That said, her serpentine voice still arrives like a cold wind off the tundra, relaying intimate and explicit information. Her lyrics remain just as scrutinizing, though the glitchier hip-hop elements of the album mean these verses chip away at the psyche rather than ripping it apart. She takes these pieces of her past and fashions them into something new, modernizing it with trendy flourishes such as Travis Scott delivery or sonic atmospheres evoking Clams Casino.
So Sad’s synthetic composition adds to the sonic imagery Zachrisson’s perfected over the past decade. One of her greatest talents lies in her ability to evoke specific moments or scenarios via her music. As the chorus of “Hard Rain” descends, Zachrisson personifies the rain sliding down the outside of your window. The guitars of “Jaguars in the Sky” reverberate in a way that resembles an aircraft passing overhead. And the droning off-beat of “Sex Money Feelings Die” pulses like a heart-rate monitor, a pulse that dies out by the time she reaches the chorus.
This change in style does come with its drawbacks. Much of the album sticks around or at the same pace, a quality that makes differentiating between tracks at times difficult. Songs also follow a relatively standard structure, bare and minimal in the verses only to grow into towering layered choruses. Homogeny can help hold an album together, but in the case of So Sad, So Sexy it feels like Zachrisson wants to play it safe in her new sound. Furthermore, certain parts of each song can be rather annoying. The stiffness of “Utopia” ruins the song’s otherwise provocative idea of a comp, and the aforementioned “Jaguars in the Sky”, while featuring a bizarro chorus with a chromatic line I’d expect in a K-pop chorus, is only interesting, not exhilarating.
One track does pick up the pace on this otherwise slow album, the Amine-assisted “Two Nights”. The lightest of beats carries Zachrisson along as she revisits the flight of her lover, whom she sounds more disappointed than hurt. The tension builds as Zachrisson asks her questions, and it eventually bursting bursts forth when she answers her question herself: “You’ve been dancing with somebody,” said in the disheartened but no less definitive manner of someone who suspected this would happen.
Yet she isn’t sad about it; or maybe more accurately, she enjoys feeling sad about it. Though never one to shy away from her sadness, this time Zachrisson really tries to sell you on why it’s awesome, or at least inevitable (“Utopia”). The penultimate “Bad Woman”, an ode to damaged goods, could easily be redirected back at the self “We need each other more than we know.”
Sadness, your girl really does love you. B MINUS