Lykke Li’s latest release So Sad So Sexy finds her facing a series of losses head on as she struggles to pick up the pieces of a fractured life and rebuild herself.
Just weeks after celebrating the birth of her first child, Lykke found out that her mother was gravely ill. Less than a year later she was gone. As if this wasn’t enough there were personal issues on the home-front that also required her attention. All of this discord seems to have gone straight into the album resulting in a record equal parts confessional, journal and therapy.
Li guides us through a series of brutal emotions that would normally leave a listener spent and looking for something lighter to lift the mood. Luckily for the listener, Li dresses her turmoil in beats and rhythms turning her pain into an addictive and cathartic listen. Li’s past stage shows were very black and white affairs with her and her band backlit with a strobe heavy rig.
The new production aesthetic is a deep red glow reminiscent of emergency lights at the scene of an accident and at the same time the sexy glow of the red light district, the music both tragic and erotic at the same time. Throughout the set she was shrouded in oversized black pvc coats and glimmering black robes, her eyes highlighted with large swaths of reflective glitter paint. Even in the shadows they drew your attention catching what little light was left.
As she worked through new material those two eyes stared directly into the audience, baring her soul at a moment of intense invulnerability. Many singer songwriters make their bread and butter doing this with just a guitar. Lykke has one-upped them as she’s got beats, synths and electronics to wrap up her pain.
The end result was not quite a dance party as there was little to celebrate but it wasn’t a funeral dirge either. Her gothic pop occupies its own space which is why she stands out amongst the crowded sea of artists even if she isn’t quite yet a household name or staple on the charts. This isn’t pop music in a traditional sense. Sure it sounds modern with trap-like beats and guest verses by Portland rapper Amine but at the core, these songs stand on their own. Her lyrics are honest, drawn from a deep well of pain and experience and with nothing off limits. She isn’t just singing about being wronged, but also about making a few mistakes of her own.
Becoming an adult isn’t an overnight transformation. Getting married and having a child doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Losing a parent may make you grow up faster than you’d like but that loss whether sudden or expected still leaves the offspring with more questions than answers. Lykke is working through her crisis in real time onstage. Her fans are there to listen and lend support and somehow just as in life, find a way to enjoy the journey.
Lykke Li’s tour continues overseas in November. Check out the highlights below.