Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

January 01, 1970

(LL Recordings/Atlantic) /


Let’s sidestep, for the
moment, the thorny issue surround the purported hegemony of “Swedish pop”; yes,
yes, it’s all the rage right now, from indie rockers Peter Björn and John and
bubblegum punks the Sounds to the dancefloor maneuvers of Robyn and the
psychedelic electronica of Sally Shapiro (a BLURT fave, by the way), but hey,
it wasn’t too long ago that Sweden was known primarily for its black- and
death-metal. Consider, instead, simply taking chanteuse Lykke Li on her own
terms, who by any stretch of the imagination has crafted, on the followup to
2008 debut Youth Novels, a minor
masterpiece that signposts the rumblings of imminent stardom – homeland or no
homeland, a little factoid shorn up by the knowledge that a good chunk of the
record was written not in Sweden but while on self-imposed sabbatical in


Lykke Li recorded once
again with Björn Yttling of Peter Björn and John, but instead of Youth Novels‘ fits-and-starts, at times
rushed, studio sessions, this time she had the full unblinking attention of
Yttling and the Swedish studio musicians assembled for the project. The result
is a 10-song set of remarkable immediacy that ventures – swaggers – into
cinematic territory without ever succumbing to grandiosity. That’s something telegraphed
last fall with the release of first single “Get Some,” a steamy, sexy
meditation on the notion of power (and its corollary, empowerment) set against
a throbbing, tribal beat and twangy, neo-surf guitars; the double- and
triple-tracked singer, sounding like a cross between a sultry screen siren from
the ‘40s fronting a big band and a classic girl group from the ‘60s, swings
between feral and vulnerable, between challenger and the challenged.


It’s that volatile,
chameleonic vocal quality, in fact, married to an impossible-to-avoid emotional
depth, that powers Wounded Rhymes. One
moment, in the atmospheric, Kate Bush-like “Love Out of Lust,” she’s
passionately embracing the possibilities that love dangles before us, singing
in an optimistic, almost wistful, voice. Then in the next, she’s slipping into
a woozy, decadent and potentially self-destructive persona, cooing and slurring
her way through the thick, disorienting psychedelia of “Rich Kids Blues.”
Elsewhere, for gothic pop-rocker “Youth Knows No Pain,” she chronicles a love
affair gone sour, issuing lines like “all my love I’ve been denied” and “all my
love is unrequited” in a matter-of-fact tone that suggests numbness is no
longer merely an option. And in “Sadness Is a Blessing,” with its – speaking of
‘60s girl groups -Phil Spectorish wall-of-sound arrangement (right down to the
glockenspiels), she’s down on her knees, pounding on the floor and finally
succumbing to the dark allure of being alone (“sadness is a blessing/ sadness
is a pearl/ sadness is my boyfriend/ oh, sadness I’m your girl”).


These emotional lows and
highs, mirrored by the bipolar quality of the music swinging restlessly between
light/airy and dark/heavy (sometimes within the same song; check the complex,
crescendo-centric “Jerome”), carries the listener along through his or her own
catharsis. When it arrives, in the form of a musical and lyrical coda that’s
like a smirking punchline, it’s profound, and profoundly unsettling. Wounded Rhymes will leave you exactly
that – wounded.


Postscript: See, it’s easy: you can get
through a review of a Swedish artist without once mentioning ABBA. All you have
to do is… oops.


Some,” “Jerome,” “Rich Kids Blues” FRED MILLS

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