Album review: Elliphant – Living Life Golden

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Elliphant‘s 2015 single ‘Step Down’, and lead song on her first global album release Living Life Golden (her 2013 debut long player A Good Idea was a Swedish release only), perfectly establishes the honed down and tightly managed sound that permeates almost the entirety of this record.

Pre-Anti Rihanna island-cum-lovers-rock pop, determinedly mid-tempo melancholia, pissed off usually and expressed with a lot of Jamaican patois for a white girl. Ellionor Olovsdotter has thrown her previous eccentric indie synth-pop and fluorescent EDM into the recycling bin. Even Diplo and Skrillex, frequent collaborators in the past who both appear again here, contribute uncharacteristically simple and low-key flourishes.

Any concerns about Olovsdotter’s potential cultural appropriation misdemeanours seem to be negated by the appearance of the outspoken gatekeeper of such issues, Azealia Banks.

On the sharply savvy ‘Everybody’, with a swaying and blustery waltz-time rhythm, the two women swap consoling verses on the state of the music industry and the usual dumb-arse wannabes. It brings energy and a smart feminist tartness early on and is one of the most appealingly focused songs either artist has put her name to.

From here on in, Ellinor Olovsdotter settles into lush and sexy reggae rhythms and solidly mainstream, crisp but minor-key beats.

‘Love Me Badder’ and ‘Love Me Long’ are as languorous and red-eyed as their titles suggest and ‘Not Ready’, certainly a big hit in the waiting if the intent of this album is bought to fruition, hits the highs of No Doubt circa Rocksteady and in particular ‘Underneath It All’.

Gwen Stefani was Olovsdotter’s first pop-star obsession and subsequent inspiration, and here she inhabits a song that is nonchalantly anthemic and relatable in its uncertainty on how Olovsdotter should proceed in the world. Stefani may no longer have these kinds of crashes of confidence but neither in 2016 is she releasing songs of this magnitude and clarity.

Elliphant runs into some trouble with the relentlessness of the album’s mid-tempo. As a result, perfectly good songs – like the sombre and growling ‘Thing Called Life’ and ‘Where is Home’, which are unhelpfully sequenced next to one another – have trouble rising to the top on Living Life Golden.

‘Spoon Me’, which features docile but still apparent production from Skrillex, could have brought a welcome break to the mood but is instead one the record’s weakest moments. It dispenses with sufficient melodies for tired drops and vocal chop-ups.

It takes Elliphant’s collaboration with Copenhagen pal and contemporary and David Sitek‘s inspired production on the title track to sky-lift the album’s final third out of a somewhat samey slump. ‘One More’ may be the album’s oldest track, first released in the autumn of 2014, but it still packs a brutal and brilliant punch of ‘fuck-you world’ that comes with true friend-ship intimacy.

Olovsdotter also finds some relief from her restlessness with the Sitek-produced title track. With this return to her more electro-pop tendencies with a shimmering and brilliant chorus that Kylie would be silly to turn down, she celebrates all that is good with her life.

Elliphant has made a shrewd decision to define and refine her sound on her debut album proper and for the best part this pays off. She may appear fashionably dissatisfied throughout, but Elliphant makes Living Life Golden sound like a life well worth living.

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