Tove Lo’s version of heartbreak is steeped in dark glitter. The metallic, shimmering sound of her synth always rubs smooth against the desperation in her voice, and on Lo’s fifth studio album Dirt Femme, the electronic vibrancy of emotions becomes palpable.
All of Dirt Femme is just this: kaleidescopic. The album triumphs as an eclectic blend of electro dance pop’s bubblegum sweetness, mixed with the frenzied hardness of alternative grunge rock. All with the surreal, forward spin of a psychedelic trip, the album itself is addictive.
The album’s production and finesse mirrors the subjects of her intense lyricism. Against an explosive synth on gothic opener “No One Dies From Love,” the Swedish artist despairs over the loss of a relationship, the dark yet bright beginning superbly setting the stage in anticipation for the rest of the album.
Lo does not stray from her roots on Dirt Femme, finding her favorite themes have matured alongside her. “Grapefruit” is an earnest, upbeat depiction of her struggles with an eating disorder, calling back recognizable self-destructive themes from her 2013 single “Habits (Stay High).” The hit managed to make the post-breakup, drugged-out depressive haze a catchy, scream-worthy song, and Lo continues this streak on Dirt Femme. Lo touches on these tough subjects with grace — self aware, her writing is more reflective and absolute than self pitying, managing to avoid the triteness characteristic of so many others’ attempts at representation.
Lo’s authenticity persists throughout the record, which is strongest and most profound at its edges; although the album sags slightly in the middle for a few songs, it quickly cleans itself back up again. Its standout tracks are steeped in rawness, confessional lyrics and production pulling emotion from the listener against a synth’s lively pulse. “I’m to Blame” is particularly devastating, the lyrics exacerbated by the emotional tone of the vocals. Indie rock adjacent, the throaty anguish in her voice jars listeners, guilt bleeding through the grunge pop-rock guitar, the beat and the thrum of the drums.
Juicy sharp sweetness infuses the album, coupled with sensuality that acts as a satisfying backdrop to her fruit motif. “Pineapple Slice” doesn’t shy away from explicit sexual imagery, showcasing the formidable power and graceful beauty of female sexuality. While the subject is often miscategorzed as taboo, Tove Lo is not one to shy away from controversy, and she embraces her sexuality and femininity in equal parts with an energizing bite. “2 Die 4” is another example of this vitality — its pulse pounds quickly through its electronic veins as she sings, “Look alive and come with me/ you’re to die for everyday.”
In some places, the record simply becomes ethereal. Songs such as “Suburbia,” appealing for its forward-moving swell and ebb of low-toned urgency, or “True Romance” with its soaring slowness and dreamily devastating plod, gradually submerge the listener into their haunting soundscapes like the delayed burn of plunging into freezing cold water. Lo’s vocals particularly stun on “True Romance,” as soft synth allows her voice’s rasp to soak through, with emotion bleeding out in a haze around it.
The album closes with its strongest song: the darkly vulnerable, painful pop track “How Long,” which was featured in season two of “Euphoria.” Like its lyrics, the song itself is “burning, brutal,” employing the down-tumbling from energy to despair of a catchy synth scale and a drum’s quick final snap.
Keeping in theme with its title, Dirt Femme is both gritty and glittering in tandem, raw and rising from the earth with elegance.