Lykke Li | Wounded Rhymes (LL/Atlantic)

It’s easy to imagine Li as the Swedish version of Lisa Bonet in High Fidelity, recently spurned but still on the prowl.

While Lykke Li’s debut LP hinted at an ice floe-choked river of blues flowing beneath her skin, it was more lightweight quirk than heart in your heartbreak. The two years since must’ve been total hell to produce a follow-up of this depth and with such a marked shift of tone. This batch of songs arrives via deserts and wintry hinterlands, resonant with great love and greater loss. If it all sounds a bit dark, that’s because it is. But this isn’t stereotypical “dress up like the Cure” high school gloom; it’s multifaceted, adult, poetically plainspoken, pretensionless—Gothic but not “goth.”
The futuristic beats and echo-laden arrangements in “Jerome” and “I Follow Rivers” accentuate Li’s plaintive, accented voice. She oozes a confident vulnerability that’s central to Wounded Rhymes, at once melancholic and sorrowful, yet brash and swaggering. “Love Out Of Lust” offers a smoky, torch song purr steeped in longing; its odd time signatures and the verses’ dramatic drums give way, like clearing marine storm clouds, to a big, hopeful Spector-ized chorus. It illustrates Li’s sharklike state of mind, a compulsion to keep moving, to keep searching for a connection despite alienation: “Dance while you can / Dance ‘cause you must.”
Shields are raised for the aggressive duo of “Get Some” and “Rich Kids Blues,” which ride a hurt, yet almost menacing vibe. “Get Some” features the notorious line, “I’m your prostitute / you gon’ get some,” which out of context sounds beyond crass, like the wish-fulfillment hack work of a chauvinist ghostwriting for Britney Spears. But combined with the latter-day Radiohead distorted synth blur and extra-scary tribal drumming behind it, this is the voice of a woman who knows what she’s after and is going to get it. It’s easy to imagine Li as the Swedish version of Lisa Bonet in High Fidelity, recently spurned but still on the prowl. “You think sex is a basic human right?” “Hell yeah…yeah.”
After the majority of the record’s guarded glimpses, a few tracks drop any buffer zone and offer unfettered emotional access, as with the disarmingly straightforward lo-fi doo-wop ballad “Unrequited Love.” There’s no artifice to this one, it’s a pierced heart laying it on the line. This unadorned, irony-free tone pops up again on the sparse, barren-tundra folk strum and croon of “I Know Places,” and in the scratchy, slowed-down Nordic Motown of “Sadness Is a Blessing.” Both revel in the saudade that a certain type of soul knows resides in the truth that, “Sadness is a blessing / Sadness is a pearl / Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh sadness I’m your girl.”
“Youth Knows No Pain” and its carnival calliope swirl of organ, thundering tympani drums, and 1960s girl group melody gets at the core of what makes Wounded Rhymes tick. Li’s not shy about telling you that she’s seen pain, that her world is dark, and she wants you to hurt the way she does. But that worldliness and seeming nihilism is tempered by a constant counter-current of romance and longing, and a sensation that while the beauty in sorrow is worth celebrating, hopelessness is not an option. A | Mike Rengel
RIYL: An emo Supremes; Mirror Universe Björk; the joy of solitude.

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