The first time I ever heard Lykke Li happened to be when she featured on Logic’s somber Young Sinatra single, “Let Me Go,” back in 2011. Her spacey vocals sparked my interest for some of her earlier work, specifically her 2008 and 2011 releases, Youth Novels and Wounded Rhymes. The latter record especially highlighted Li’s uncanny ability to create intelligent dream/electro-pop music. Even her 2014 album, I Never Learn, included a good amount of dreamy ballads littered with instrumentally-dense production.
The first three releases emphasized Li’s emotional sentiments, chiefly dedicated to love and its trials and tribulations. On Li’s fourth installment, so sad so sexy, the Swedish-born songwriter abandons her art pop experimentation for trendy hip hop and R&B beats.
Unfortunately, aside from a few intriguing sounds and stylistic changes, Li seems to fall prey to the commercial trap-inspired direction modern-day music is going in. The problem isn’t necessarily Li’s tendencies to jump onto the hip hop bandwagon, but rather her inability to progress the genre anywhere even remotely interesting.
The Atlantic signee is at her best on this project when she’s doing the bare minimum with mixing, like on the piano-driven “two nights,” with a passable verse given by Amine. The track is a surprising highlight, considering the unlikely pairing of the two artists. By holding back on the production, Li is able to put her menacing vocal performance on full display. The hook is melodic and catchy enough to get behind as well.
Even the sinister “last piece” accomplishes a certain level of balladry that’s absent on the first third of the record. The intense back base operates as a successful build-up, therefore giving Li the platform needed to provide listeners with a nuanced vocal execution.
When Li adopts a more commercialized sound, she finds herself in murky waters. Songs like “deep end” are a dime a dozen in the industry nowadays. The bland trap beat has sadly been done to a tee many times before.
The specific sound she is going for becomes incredibly derivative of musical titans like Drake and Lana Del Rey. The astonishingly short, “sex money feelings die” could be mistaken for a B-side off of If You’re Reading This it’s too Late. The very grand and atmospheric synth leads on the title track fails to escape the realm of a Del Rey song.
The 808-inspired drums presented on “better alone” is taken right out of the Kanye West book (i.e. “Say You Will”). Even Li’s cadence when she bellows the chorus (I’m better alone than lonely) comes off eerily similar to Mr. West belting “don’t say you will” off the opener to his 2008 classic album 808 and Heartbreak.
The notably short record (around 30 minutes), ends with Li installing her magnificent voice to the forefront. Again, when Li gives her vocals the platform needed to perform at the highest level, she gains the ability to leave a lasting effect. Her climatic and distant wind-like horns leave listeners wondering what could have been. Her head-scratching decision making earlier on the album cannot be ignored, even with the beautiful ending. One may think of Frank Ocean when hearing the finale, but instead of completely stealing his sound, Li enhances it, and makes it her own.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for a majority of the songs on her fourth effort. Much of the time, Li dismally takes whatever popular sound dominating the landscape right now, and does nothing interesting with it. I’m fine with using inspirations, but originality and forward-thinking must eventually transpire. For an artist who became critically-acclaimed for her rawness and emotional convictions, Li takes a large step back. Yes, she’s dealing with adversity in her personal life, but lyrically nothing develops from it. Instead, the Swedish singer trades innocence and curiosity, for commercialized hip hop ballads, devoid of any life.