You know that girl you see walking around sometimes? She struts like the entire world is her red carpet, accessorizing a knowing glint in her eye with a smirk. You either love her or hate her, but no one can deny that she is capital-C cool.
Tove Lo’s newest album, Lady Wood, is that girl. Through synthetic background rhythms and electric vocals, Lady Wood presents a contradiction. The glossy persona that Tove Lo shaped through computerized harmonies is repeatedly shattered by moments of honesty and Tove Lo puts her entire cool girl self in her vocals, which adds a extra dimension to the very untouchable electronic-pop songs. Lady Wood builds a story that reveals both the perfect and the imperfect aspects of Tove Lo, tying it all together with a steady base and stimulating beat.
This narrative commences with “Fairy Dust — Chapter I,” which indeed sets up the album’s stage. Short, devoid of vocals and intensely creepy, this song reveals to all that Tove Lo is not messing around. Armed with a fluid, shifting cacophony of strange synths and beats, ‘Fairy Dust — Chapter I” is a primer for the first half of the album, creating an passionate and unrestrained base for the songs of Lady Wood to layer onto.
Songs like “Lady Wood,” “True Disaster” and “Cool Girl” are splattered onto the composed foundation to add more details to the masterpiece Tove Lo is constructing. “Lady Wood” is sparking with catchy melodies and buzzing with deeply primitive rhythms, while “True Disaster” is more invigorating, with pulsing beats that create a driving undercurrent. “Cool Girl” is swirling with cutting vocals and sharply shifting tempos. All these songs serve to further develop the plot that was set up in “Fairy Dust—Chapter I.” Ardent and demanding, they create an image that is ice cold, faultless and unblemished; the beginning half of this album is untouchable.
However, the cracks in Tove Lo’s perfect persona become evident in the second half of Lady Wood, which is introduced through the song “Fire Fade — Chapter II.” Much like “Chapter I,” “Fire Fade — Chapter II” is brief and mysterious, with murky rhythms swimming out through the gloom. But while “Chapter I” was fervent and dynamic, this song is subdued and vulnerable; crisp edges are blurred while “where are you…? I’m lost” echoes over a foggy background. “Fire Fade — Chapter II” marks a shift: if the first half of Lady Wood was Tove Lo building impermeable walls up, then the second half of Lady Wood is Tove Lo breaking those walls down.
This openness appears in songs like “Imaginary Friend,” “Flashes” and “WTF Love Is.” While these songs are still electrifying and showcase Tove Lo’s iconic electronic-pop sound, the background harmonies are more muted, allowing the spotlight to focus on Tove Lo’s impacting vocals, rich in sincerity and depth. Lines like “reminding me that there’s nothing to fear in the things I’m afraid of” from “Imaginary Friend” or “people come, I push them away” from “Flashes” allow these songs to be forthcoming in describing secretive fears and weaknesses. The second part of Lady Wood feels like the hidden uncertainties whispered in the dead of night, pieces of you that are too fragile for the light of day to see.
Lady Wood is expertly divided into two parts: the first part is dedicated to building a seamless “cool girl” façade while the second part is dedicated to revealing the humane cracks and faults in what appeared to be so unattainable. Tove Lo’s intricate narration is what makes the album so compelling and what saves the album from falling into repetitiveness.
While individual songs are an elaborate assortment of detailed synchronizations and tempos, many of them fit a template that Tove Lo has perfected: muted stanzas building up to explosive choruses against a fluid, almost psychedelic backdrop. While Tove Lo can fall into a habit of overusing this template, what stops the overall album from straying into monotonous territory is the constant narrative aspect.
Tove Lo is a storyteller in Lady Wood and the tale she tells is personable because of the way it divulges previously hidden flaws. Its power comes from the idea it proposes: inner imperfections don’t make you incomplete but rather do the opposite. They are something of which to be proud. Besides, “cool girl” is still a normal girl, and, as Tove Lo demonstrates through Lady Wood, one that hides that same uncertainties and shortcomings as everybody else.