There’s a record you should listen to. It is made of echoes and reverberations, sounds slowly spreading through the air and shameless confessions. I imagine him being put in a state on the border between the real and the imaginary, between consciousness and toxic alteration. There is very little: the voice singing old-fashioned melodies, vintage synthesizers, an organ, an electric guitar, a lot of mystery, a lot of loneliness. It is such fervent and intimate music that it is both mystical and pornographic.
This disc is titled Eye. Listening to it is like trying to kiss a ghost. It is the definitive immersion in the themes on which Lykke Li has built a career and a little myth: emotional addiction, obsessions, the tendency to repeat the same mistakes, alcohol and drugs, the idealization of relationships, love as a blessed and cursed spell. which we do not escape, but rather to which we indulge with pleasure. And of course the sadness that moves everything, the sadness that Lykke Li invariably manages to make sexy.
He calls me from Paris. The voice is weak, the sentences short. Explain that if Eye it sounds like that because he started recording it in his bedroom in LA, with a laptop, mic, no headphones, no clicks. It’s a record of traditional songs, but not retro. The singer recorded them immediately after writing the lyrics, “to capture the moment you’re composing, which is the most vivid ever because you’re still wondering what you’re trying to say.” When it came to processing the tracks with Björn Yttling, his creative partner on the first three albums, Lykke Li realized that the sense of intimacy created by those early recordings was not repeatable. This actually works: Eye it has a wonderfully confessional tone, it’s raw without being grungy, it’s dark and enchanting. “It was produced by putting a few layers of music on top of the vocal tracks. I wanted the listener to lower when I recorded it, so I left the sound of rain, cicadas”. In the presentation of the album, he says that he wanted it “to sound like a vowel heard after an absurd dose of LSD”. On the phone he tells me that it is “a painting from a memory”.
It’s the memory of a love story never up to expectations, a story in which we crash. It’s a concept, even if the singer prefers to call it a movie, in which all the songs are about the same unhappy relationship. The lyrics don’t say much about the two protagonists, who they are, what they do, how exactly it happened between them. Most of the songs take place in his head. There are flashes, memories, thoughts. Above all, there is her pain, which is Lykke Li’s pain when she was recording the record in the bedroom. The songs seem like the toxic and disturbing echo of his amorous obsession.
In the texts, reference is made several times to the states of consciousness of the protagonist, high or sober. Sometimes it seems like love is portrayed as a form of addiction. At other times it is obvious that alcohol and drugs are a means of escaping the pain. “Both are true,” Lykke Li says. “There’s no drug more powerful than love, even chemically, it’s all about dopamine. It’s an addiction like any other. But it is also true that other substances help to forget, to cancel”. He tells me that magic mushrooms had a profound influence on the album. To explain it to me, he says that he sees music as “a staircase to heaven” and that it has to do with the cosmos. “I want to create worlds, I want to use music to escape from this boring and terrible reality. I seek transcendence, I yearn for the divine, which means feeling light and connected, finding a place where magic can happen”.
The album opens with chirping and chirping cicadas and the image of the protagonist on the doorstep of the man she doesn’t want to part with. The ghost is not the one who left her, it is she who is still in the past. Each song sounds like a prayer of reconciliation that is both sweet and heartbreaking. And every prayer seems a step towards defeat. Lykke Li sings with grace, elegance and sensuality jealousy, loneliness, pain. Love is a spell you can’t break free from, maybe you don’t want to break free from, love is a film in 5D, “But it’s a movie that’s only in my head.” Images of cars and streets abound, “maybe because in LA you spend a lot of time inside the car, which is a metaphor for moving forward, for leaving things behind.” And at the end of this half hour of very sweet torment there is the image of the one behind who leaves, she closes her eyes because she does not want to believe that it is their last scene, she closes them when she wants to recreate this love in her head. And even though there is no happy ending, and even though the protagonist seems trapped in an endless cycle of suffering, Lykke Li says that this journey through pain is meant to be cathartic, that she wanted to totally immerse yourself to free yourself from the tendency to idealize relationships, suffer, write songs and start over. “Please listen to it at the same time,” he adds, “listen to it from the first song to the last”. As if it were a movie, in fact.
Even if, according to what he tells me, any project in the extra-musical field is for the moment put aside and therefore also the idea of devoting himself to cinema after having played in song to song by Terence Malick, Lykke Li chose to accompany the album of seven visuals designed as a loop. Directed by Theo Lindquist and shot by Edu Grau on 16mm film, with the singer and Jeff Wilbusch (Unorthodox, Oslo), are short, confused narrative fragments, inserted like the record into an almost dreamlike, or rather nightmarish, reality. It’s a way of capturing a format, the short video to watch on a smartphone, which characterizes the consumption of images online today. It is integrated into the album’s aesthetic and used in its dreamlike narrative. Seen one after the other, it is easy to imagine them as a trailer for the film set to music by Eye: they do not tell, but create suggestions.
You immerse yourself in this world and we would almost forget how bizarre this palindrome album, in the title and in the duration of 33 minutes and 33 seconds, is compared to the pop that is in the charts these days. In a summer 2019 interview with Mad Cool, when she was just 33 years old, Lykke Li said that she felt at the end of her career as a pop singer, that she felt too old to try to be a star. He had just made his final attempt to join the global pop conversation with the album so sad so sexy in which he seemed to want to intercept some musical trends of those years. The record was neither up to nor precedent I never learnnor the next Eye. The latter is the kind of work that artists release when they no longer feel any interest in commercial success and can finally indulge their obsessions.
“I think that Eye is a reaction to so sad so sexybut again so sad so sexy this in turn was a reaction to I never learn. I always want to do something new, go places I’ve never been. I love pop music, I’ve always loved it, and for a second I wanted to be part of that world. People kept calling me to collaborate together. I always said no. That is why in the days of so sad so sexy I said to myself: let’s see what happens by saying yes. This time, however, I wanted to make an album for myself”. The future is not written. “But I think I closed a period with this record, I think I completed my pain work. I believe that I will make music on other subjects, that another era will begin for me”.
If that were the case, Lykke Li would still have left us with a set of original songs that, in a way, clash with the cultural climate in which they were born. She, a Swede who has lived almost everywhere in the world, feels uprooted and this is perhaps one of the reasons for her singularity, her way of transforming sounds into singular pop objects. Another reason has to do with the lyrics he sings. In recent years, in pop music, the imperatives of accountability and self-help. Sadness is most often spoken of as something that has finally been put behind us, subordination to a man has become unrepresentable, longing for an asshole has something toxic about it, so much so that those who have locked away feelings of this guy in songs are guilty, see the case of Lana Del Rey. Yet there is a wonderful tradition of this genre that stretches from the origins of folksong to the Crystals, through Amy Winehouse, and reaches to the present day.
Since appearing on stage in 2008 with her debut Children’s novels and then above all Wounded nursery rhymes from 2011, Lykke Li taught that sadness can also be a blessing. That you can make pop music, and do it well, even representing the feelings and thoughts of someone kneeling in front of a man and begging not to be left behind. You don’t seem to attach much importance to this diversity. “I just realized I was addicted to this compulsion to repeat and decided to be honest and tell myself, first to myself,” she says of the love obsessions at the center of her directory. “It’s about recognizing it, accepting it, also moving forward. And as it is a powerful feeling, I can say that I found beauty in sadness”.
In doing so, he perpetuates a great tradition of pop song. We all end up being defeated, prostrated and abandoned sooner or later. Let’s sing it.