Album Review: Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

The titles of Lykke Li’s two albums have been instructive. 2008’s Youth Novel played out like a 22-year old’s first attempt at capturing life, love and loss on the page; as she beckoned on “Melodies & Desires,” “Come a little closer / Take a look at me / This light is so obvious / I want you to see.” Her sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes, is informed by the last three years, years that have an out-sized effect on development, both personally and artistically. She admitted as much to Pitchfork:

“I dove into the craziness and did things that maybe I would think twice about when I get older. And I’m a really restless person; I’m tired of the way I sounded or looked yesterday. So it’s hard to hang onto this image of me as this young Swedish female in this world.”

Wounded Rhymes confronts that uncertainty and restlessness head on. It is more vibrant and less reserved than the bedroom pop of Youth Novel. If Youth Novel was winter, Wounded Rhymes is spring.

The urgency of the album is immediate, as the grimy, sneering “Youth Knows No Pain” kicks off the album. “Get Some” combines bouncy “Lust for Life” drums and the electroshock hum of a guitar, as Li drops lyrics that stoke the flames of a gender war: “Like the shotgun / needs an outcome / I’m your prostitute / you gon’ get some.”

“I Follow Rivers” and “Love Out Lust” are complementary, with the latter a more romantic take on the theme of free-spirited devotion. “Love Out of Lust” is a sweeping love song: “we can cross rivers with our will / we can do better than I can.” On the other hand, “I Follow Rivers” is richly layered and powerful, with hints of electric piano, horns, and exotic instruments reminiscent of those on Youth Novel.

While most of the album is more overwhelming than anything on Youth Novel, Li also tinkers with restrained, country-western ballads, in the style of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. “Sadness is a Blessing” and “Unrequited Love” recall “My” and “Hanging High” off her previous record, with their airy melodies and familiar sounds.

For Lykke Li, much has changed in the last three years. She deals with the fame and notoriety on “Rich Kid Blues,” sauntering through the lyrics like Grace Slick over some Jefferson Airplanesque psychedelics. Throughout the album, the lyrics aren’t as precious as before, and her voice is more self-assured. It’s a welcome change for detractors who found Youth Novel too twee. But despite changes in the formula, Lykke Li maintains her sound, not getting lost in denser productions (a charge easily leveled at contemporary Adele). At this pace, no one knows what Lykke Li will sound like in three years, including Lykke Li herself. And that’s a good thing.

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