Swedish songstress Lykke Li’s 2008 debut album ushered her onto the music scene at around the same time that countrywoman Robyn’s finely crafted alt-pop began making waves, and it was perhaps inevitable that they’d be frequently lumped into similar categories. But after three albums and life changes like a move to Los Angeles, a death (her mother) and a birth (her son), she’d tired of that distinctively Swedish sound and longed to embrace the hip-hop and R&B sounds that her partner Jeff Bhasker (the Grammy-winning producer who’s collaborated with artists from Kanye West and Mark Ronson to Harry Styles) has long worked with. In advance of this album, she basically cautioned fans that it would be different.
And while “So Sad So Sexy” features a wide palette of sounds and beats that at times make her previous work sound stodgy, the good news is that you can take the woman out of Sweden, but (etc. etc.): The album is an intricate yet natural-sounding fusion of sophisticated pop songcraft with contemporary beats and rhythms. That balance is trickier than it might seem, but Li pulls it off. This doesn’t try to be an R&B or dance album, but integrates sounds from those genres into her own: the songs have more drive and a more fluid energy; they swing rather than march.
A mind-boggling host of collaborators are along for the ride — including Bhasker, Malay (Frank Ocean, Zayn), Rostam (Vampire Weekend), Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, Eminem, Bruno Mars), even Skrillex — yet the album and the vision never feel like they’re anyone’s but hers, and the title track, “Deep End,” “Sex Money Feelings Die” and especially “Last Piece” and “Utopia” are easily among the best songs she’s ever done. “So Sad So Sexy” opens a whole new chapter in Li’s career.