The new album from Ellinor Olovsdotter, the Swedish one-woman outfit known as Elliphant, finds a happy middle ground that ditches the more hard-edged dancehall sound present on her early EPs for a sun-flecked, light reggae tone. Featuring guest spots from Azealia Banks, Twin Shadow, Skrillex, and others.
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“One More” [ft. MØ]— Elliphant
Nailing a breakout record is a tricky beast. There are tried-and-true methods to assure that your latest record reaches new heights, both commercially and critically. Lock down some high profile collaborations, concoct a palatable, mainstream sound, maybe secure a promotional sync here and there. Think of artists like the Weeknd or Sia—five years ago, their present level of stardom would have seemed somewhat improbable. Living Life Golden, the new album from Ellinor Olovsdotter, the Swedish one-woman outfit known as Elliphant, is a mostly gratifying, albeit calculated, attempt at gaining that level of success.
In her short career (her 2013 debut album, A Good Idea, was released in Sweden only), Elliphant’s sound has shifted schizophrenically from dancehall to reggae to synth-pop to EDM to Scandipop. It’s easy to see where she has garnered comparisons to M.I.A. and Santigold, but until now lacked the consistency to rival those more established artists. Living Life Golden finds a happy middle ground where Elliphant ditches the more hard-edged dancehall sound present on her early EPs for a sun-flecked, light reggae tone. It flourishes, while still hammers home a more slickly-produced, pop structure. In a post-Iggy Azalea world, a Swedish woman rapping in a Jamaican-esque semi-patois has a broad potential to bristle, and it must be said, Elliphant has always walked that line rather dangerously. Luckily, on tracks like “Love Me Long,” a collaboration with Major Lazer and Jamaican reggae superstar Gyptian, she delivers her vocal with such acumen that it saves the songs from pastiche. “Love Me Long” is a relaxed, passionate duet laid on top of a glitchy, shuffling dancehall beat, and when Elliphant and Gyptian sing to each other, “Do you ever get lonely / Do you ever get stoned?” and “Do you ever feel lonely?/ Do you ever feel stoned?,” it’s difficult to reproach either of them, because what is a reggae love song but that exact lyric?
“Everybody,” an upbeat, off-kilter track featuring Azealia Banks is another highlight, and ironically, it could be Elliphant’s low-key ticket to a new level of popularity. Banks’ entire career could be described as rocky at the best of times, but recently she’s found a much-needed second wind, which is reflected in her energetic verse. Matching Elliphant beat for beat, they sound like twin sisters word-battling during recess, and one could easily imagine them starring together in a bad girl, “Telephone”-style video. Another somewhat left-field feature on Living Life Golden is Twin Shadow, who lends his writing and wall of layered guitars to “Where Is Home,” which would fit as well into his discography as it does on this record. Like most of the album, it showcases the eclecticism that Elliphant has been trying to capture since she first started releasing music. In fact, the record’s only true low point comes at the hands of frequent collaborator Skrillex, on a track called “Spoon Me” that is honestly so toneless it careens straight past mediocre into the realm of the bizarre. Over a light EDM beat Skrillex could have tapped out on his phone, Elliphant raves on about the merits of a good cuddle, somehow uttering the line: “Spoon me, baby, you can’t spoon too tight/ Hands on my boobie yeah/ Dick on my booty now.” I’m laughing, but it’s not funny.
Whether or not Living Life Golden will actually work as a breakout for Elliphant remains to be seen; it’s not a home run. But it’s enough of an evolution for her that it could finally open some new doors for an artist whose potential has been somewhat limited by her stabs at sonic diversity. With the absolute best aspects of her pop musicianship present, a little bit of luck could see her next record perfect her sound even further.