There must be something in the water in Sweden, or perhaps their grammar schools are offering “Pop Appreciation” because it seems the pop royalty of our generation is consistently imported from the Nordic country. Lykke Li, 24, is the latest addition to these ranks.
After 2008’s Youth Novels hit the U.S. and was met with warm reception both in the indie music scene and with the likes of Twilight producers and Kanye West, it appeared that Li was poised for full mainstream inception.
She seemed to be losing her steam as her collaborations and appearances slowed after 2009. But just when the four-year gap seemed to fade her presence, Li has returned with a vengeance and brand new album ready to croon and kick her way into listeners hearts.
Wounded Rhymes, as suggested by the name, has a load to bear. The album is crammed with song after song of heartbreak and the loss of innocence. Lyrically the songs are raw examinations of a woman evolving, often confused by surroundings and unsure of her next move. This is contrasted by confident and straightforward musical backing that equivocates somewhere between bombastic floor stompers and unshakably haunting, stripped down confessions.
No matter what route she decides to take from song to song, Li does it with a valiance that she seemed to lack in her debut.
Wounded Rhymes makes frequently bold shifts between its tracks, the kind that can veil an artist behind a shield of pageantry and ultimately lose them within their own creation. Li’s presence, however, never falters as she morphs from dance floor temptress to barstool chanteuse and back again.
“Youth Knows No Pain” is a vibrant kickstart to Wounded Rhymes, at once offering a joyous return to the Lykke Li experience and making listeners wonder if this is a different artist altogether. Emphatic percussion and reeling organ lines are a much different soundscape than the sparse bass and piano key plunks heard on Youth Novels.
Li, however, is unfettered by the change, and she delivers it with an urgent immediacy that forces listeners to pay attention from the start. This energy is carried into the cheeky and playful “I Follow Rivers,” but even this coquettish track is a different brand of playful than Li’s previously reluctant, seductive style. Any lingering notion of her coyness is quickly lifted with the undisguised sexual overtones in the album’s first single “Get Some.”
This aplomb is carried through to the barebones singer-songwriter ballads. Perhaps the most compelling track, “I Know Places,” is a haunting invitation that features nothing but Li’s pipes and a guitar. While far less subdued, “Jerome” and “Sadness is a Blessing” manage to make an impression without the dance beats.
Li has previously said she is influenced by Bob Dylan’s ever-evolving sound. Like Dylan, she has made a successful shift into a vastly different style and seems to have settled into herself a bit more. It is impossible to say if Li will have the same kind of constant evolution Dylan did, but she is assured and present in herself at the moment, which is an essential element of artistry.
Li took chances that paid off, producing an album with a clear voice that seems to be taunting listeners with the question: “What am I going to do next?”
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes tracklist:
- “Youth Knows No Pain”
- “I Follow Rivers”
- “Love Out of Lust”
- “Unrequited Love”
- “Get Some”
- “Rich Kids Blues”
- “Sadness Is A Blessing”
- “I Know Places”
- “Silent My Song”