New Music 10/2020 – Lykke Li, Michael Kiwanuka, SOAK

Sad songs from a Scandi songstress that you can dance to; brilliant third album from the UK soul man; a grim title for the not-so-grim music.

so sad so sexy

Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li is something of a pop outlier: her songs are catchy enough for a degree of success, but too moody, quaint and quirky for the mainstream. This recent synth-pop re-invention is unlikely to change things, but it makes for a damn fine album. And yes the name is all lowercase because caps are so old-school.

I was a big fan of Wounded Rhymes, Li’s 2011 record, and her random but memorable appearance on U2’s Songs of Innocence, where she contributed her lovely ghostly vocals to the closing track. She sounds just as forlorn and melancholy on the new album, with more songs about heartbreak and sadness, but now with the electronic/R&B foundation. Though the style can get a bit samey over the length of the album, there are enough strong hooks to carry it over.


Kiwanuka’s previous release, Love & Hate, had the Cold Little Heart problem: this majestic epic stunner of a song kinda overshadowed everything else that followed. On the first listen, the lack of a similar instant stand-out on Kiwanuka was a bit of a letdown, but given more time it reveals itself as an ambitious leap forward for an artist who was already mighty impressive.

This is a true “album” that’s meant to be listened to from start to finish, a cycle of contemplative but joyful songs held together by Kiwanuka’s warm soulful vocals and the production that’s both retro and contemporary. It keeps the cinematic feel of Love & Hate, but broadens the musical palette and changes up the tempo, at times thrillingly within the space of the same song. Now I just have to hope that I’ll get a chance to see him live some day.

Grim Town

Also getting more expansive with her sound is this Northern Irish musician (real name Bridie Monds-Watson), whose sparse 2015 debut I really enjoyed. With the opening track, you might be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a concept album experience, with a stern announcement from an imaginary train conductor that the upcoming journey is for the lonely, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, the lost.

However Grim Town is far from being glum or grim, with winsome jangly indie pop, catchy and ecstatic choruses and dance beats thrown in between the more sombre numbers. At fifteen tracks it could maybe use some trimming, and while more varied it’s perhaps less singular and striking than SOAK’s first release. Overall though it’s quite delightful.

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