Singer-songwriter Lykke Li reminds me of Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of the late Stieg Larsson’s ubiquitous Millenium novels. Both young women are smart, sexy, and Swedish, sensitive souls who vacillate between vulnerability and toughness. And while Li may not have an eidetic memory, hack computer networks, or solve murders, she certainly plays with fire and kicks her fair share of hornets’ nests. (And yes, she has a tattoo.)
Li’s second album, released today, is a portrait of pain that fuses pop, punk, blues, country, and doo-wop. With its analogue aesthetic and electronic edges, Wounded Rhymes blends the darkness of The Doors or Depeche Mode with the peppiness of a cheerleading squad or glee club.
Lykke Li, Get Some
Li, who turns 25 in March, is part of the Swedish Invasion, a musical movement of indie rockers that includes The Knife, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Peter Bjorn & John (Bjorn produced Wounded Rhymes). Beyond her 2008 debut Youth Novels, Li has covered songs by Kings of Leon and Vampire Weekend, contributed to the Twilight soundtrack, and collaborated with Kanye West and Bon Iver. While she’s not quite a household name, she has an indie following: her two shows in May at New York’s Webster Hall are already sold out.
Wounded Rhymes is driven by lyrical litany of heartbreak, with tales of tears, shame, and sorrow. Li follows guys like rivers to the sea, she’d rather be dead than alone, and oh, her love is unrequited. Amid the suffering, there are moments of triumph, such as the opener “Youth Knows No Pain,” and “Get Some,” which sounds like the reincarnation of “Walk Like An Egyptian,” a song released the year Li was born. Still, by the end of the record, you have to wonder: who are all these guys who broke her heart? (I’m talking to you, Jerome).
Lykke Li, Jerome
The music on Wounded Rhymes has two main modes. Most songs are lush and layered, driven by drums and electronic percussion, with guitar, organs, and synthesizer sound effects. Two tunes are more minimalist: “Unrequited Love” features Li over electric guitar that plays a 1950′s doo-wop progression. On “I Know Places,” she sings over a slowly strummed acoustic guitar that plays Three Chords and The Truth for four minutes before it yields to two minutes of spacey mood music.
Lykke Li, Sadness is a Blessing
As a singer, Li maximizes her technical limitations via vocal variations. On Wounded Rhymes, she snarls like a punk princess, croons like a countrified chanteuse, and chants with a breathiness and rasp that recalls Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star or, more recently, Cameron Mesirow of Glasser. On one song, her voice swoons with the earnestness of a heartbroken female lead in a Broadway musical, as she wallows. “Sadness is a blessing/Sadness is a curse/Sadness is my boyfriend/Sadness I’m your girl.”
The album ends with a five-minute dirge on which Li and her backup singers repeat the phrase “Silent/Oh Silent/Silent My Song.” The final chorus, sung a capella, sounds like a mantra, a meditative moment of cathartic calm after a 40-minute emotional storm.