A few years ago, when Peter Bjorn and John (QRO spotlight on) & “Young Folks” caused the ‘Swedish Invasion’ in indie music (QRO’s Swedish Sensations), there were a flood of Swedish songstresses (most of whom had sung the female part of “Young Folks” at one time or another) – Victoria Bergsmann (a.k.a. Taken By Trees – QRO album review), Sarah Assbring (a.k.a. El Perro Del Mar – QRO live review opening for PB&J), Anna Ternheim (QRO album review), and more, but the breakout was clearly Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson, a.k.a. Lykke Li. However, after a breakthrough 2009 that included being the major star of CMJ that year (QRO recap), Lykke retreated somewhat, as pressure to avoid the ‘sophomore slump’ was heavy. Well, the Swedish songstress is back & better on Wounded Rhymes, which combines bossanova & girl-group.
But first things first: Lykke’s debut Youth Novels (QRO review), while decent, wasn’t the best of those from the ladies of the north, and definitely had room for improvement. And improve Lykke did, first by dropping the ill-advised spoken word-ish experiments from Novels, but mostly by going bigger and embracing the bossanova. After the stupendous success of Feist (QRO live review) and her bossa The Reminder (QRO review), it’s kind of curious that there hasn’t been more indie-gals going nova, and Lykke does the sound well on such Rhymes as “Youth Knows No Pain”, “Get Some”, “Rich Kid Blues”, and “Jerome”. She also varies that style up, from the cabaret of opener “Youth” (though it shouldn’t have been followed by the similar-but-just-a-shadow-of-it “I Follow Rivers”), to the dark dance rhythms of “Get Some”, big & sultry “Rich Kid”, and airier “Jerome”.
Just as there was a weaker side to the experiments on Youth, there is also on Wounded, as Lykke Li channels fifties girl-groups on some pieces. The fifties style can work, and has been doing more so these days (see The Love Language – QRO spotlight on – or the ladies of The Like – QRO live review), and Lykke does it well with “Sadness Is a Blessing”, but other stripped songs like it such as the shoo-wop shoo-wop “Unrequited Love”, reduced “I Know Places”, or echo-choral finish “Silent My Song” feel like diversions from what she does best. There’s also a tendency in them and other songs like “Love Out of Lust” for her sound to get too lovely – Lykke Li needs that darker undercurrent.
Lykke Li wasn’t quite deserving of all the hype she received when riding at the crest of the Swedish wave, and her relative silence afterwards was a wise move, as the height of her hype was also right when you were getting sick of her. But Wounded Rhymes is an album that, even still with some flaws, sees her living up to that acclaim.
MP3 Stream: “Get Some”