Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li is a longtime fan of European arthouse cinema. In fact, she describes her new audio-visual album EYEYE as a “hyper sensory landscape” and “her most intimate work to date.” Both statements are pretty bold proclamations considering Li’s four previous albums always found their protagonists in media res, carefully picking up the jagged pieces of recently shattered romantic relationships.
Recorded in her LA bedroom, EYEYE focuses on Li’s “love is a symphony” business model once again, which was first established on 2008’s indie-pop debut Youth Novels. The lyrics now are even more personal and touch on her love of cinema rather than obfuscate her emotional duress through past character portraits. At the start of the single “No Hotel,” the evening thrum of cicadas and an air conditioner are heard in the background. Li lights the scene with a sundered feeling of regret here and for the whole album: “There’s no hotel, no cigarettes / And you’re still in love with someone else / It’s cracking dawn, street soaking wet / I’m on your doorstep, not losing yet.”
Later on the album, art-pop tracks “Carousel” and “Highway to Your Heart” also convey this celluloid quality. The captured romance has plenty of grain, pop, and dirt on the film, but Li’s voice at the center restores and amplifies the message. When she arrives at “5D,” she asks sincere film buff questions: “Is it only in the movies you love me?” She’s aching for a big budget, old Hollywood-like romance while also realizing that only exists in the fictions of the silver screen. In fact, working with longtime collaborator Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, they cut plenty of fat from previous projects—a $79 drum mic for vocals and just live instrumentation grant the record a feeling of a yearning lo-fi debut rather than a highly polished fifth offering.
EYEYE thankfully jettisons the scribbled trap-pop experiments of 2018’s so sad so sexy with Li craning her head toward the understated and intimate symphonies she confidently produced on 2011’s Wounded Rhymes and 2014’s I Never Learn. A new Lykke Li record is an acquired taste these days, but by ramping down the production value EYEYE puts a strict focus on the small, captured moments, akin to studying a lover’s face for context clues. The record’s sneaky musical triumph is that she never forgot about her true passions. One of the parting words on this record's closer “ü&i” fits into this cinematic milieu quite well. The vocals are excellent on that final soulful track as they swirl around the thematic line “The movie is you and I.”
Although the album does have a couple muted attempts at cinematic brilliance (“Happy Hurts,” “Over”) that may not track with all audiences, Li proves on EYEYE that she can do what she does best on her own terms without all the big studio props, makeup, and blockbuster special effects. The movie is Lykke Li and this is its latest act.