Sweden's Lykke Li smoulders with all sorts of raspy and dark torch songs on Wounded Rhymes, her second record.
Her debut album, Youth Novels, was released in 2008 to considerable acclaim. Wounded Rhymes builds on Youth Novels well, engaging with lots of dusty, open-faced soundscapes and plenty of shade.
Lykke Li doesn't hold back, bringing her bleakness and mystery to some rather melodic pop tunes. The resulting stew is equal parts sinister and sweet, creating a rich experience that may well be one of the best records of the year so far.
Li has a way of tracking through songs with her boots on. The residue can leave questions as to whether she's been walking through pristine snow or clouded ash, but the trail is always compelling. The gloom is actually intertwined with the joy, with Li accomplishing the rare trick of creating happy sad songs.
Li headed to Los Angeles to record the album. 24 and blonde, one might think that Los Angeles would be the place to be for such an artist, but Wounded Rhymes speaks softly of different frustrations. It is, you could say without grimacing, Swedish through and through.
This is helped by the presence of producer and co-composer Bjorn Yttling, the Bjorn of Peter Bjorn and John. Yttling does his best Phil Spector impersonation on the dials and switchess, drawing in the proverbial "wall of sound" to coat the backdrop in fullness. Li is up to the challenge and her confident shines through.
"Youth Knows No Pain" is the first track. It bounds out with a mix of tribal percussion and an eerily psychedelic organ. "Do it all, though you can't believe it," Li sings. "Youth knows no pain."
Her invincible distress carries through every track on the album. As optimistic as she might sound, there's always a thread of delicious hesitation. When Li pumps her fists through "Get Some," the record's lead single, you can feel her looking behind her. "I'm your prostitute," she sings. "You gon' get some."
Wounded Rhymes sinks in and simmers with the elements of youthful frustration that made that period of our lives so much fucking fun, but Lykke Li isn't content to simply stay there. Her eyes and words dart around curiously on tracks like "Sadness is a Blessing." She's looking for something more.
Some consider Li to put on a "tough" act through her music and I suppose that's true to some extent. But more than she's a robust young vocalist, she's a vulnerable presence. Behind the odd sneer is equivocation so deep, so delicious, that she becomes irresistable.