The Swedes must possess some sort of enchanted musical Allen key, because it does seem like they have a magical gift for putting together damn fine pop albums. Lykke Li along with The Concretes, The Knife, Peter Bjorn and John, Robyn and Shout Out Louds are all blazing down the path that was paved by ABBA. Unfortunately, Sweden’s rock legacy isn’t as storied.
Swedish pop occupies a no man’s land. It’s simultaneously able to thrive on tastemaker websites like Pitchfork and Fader and in the dregs of popular culture on soundtracks for Gossip Girl, Gray’s Anatomy and Twilight. And isn’t that the mark of great pop music? That you can stick it on a Twilight soundtrack and the too-cool-for-school music nerds are still forced to begrudgingly concede that it’s great?
So Lykke Li has a new album titled Wounded Rhymes and, of course, it’s produced by Bjorn Yttling of PB&J, it’s kind of angsty, and it’s fantastic. Ho hum, right? Well not so fast. What’s not predictable about this album is that Lykke Li’s ditched a lot of the saccharine sweetness of her 2008 debut Youth Novel and, as clichéd as it sounds, put out a far more mature and interesting album.
She definitely wasn’t slacking between releases. Yes, there was that song she did for the New Moon soundtrack, which probably did nothing to increase her fanbase. But there were also collaborations with Kanye West, on N.A.S.A.’s The Spirit of Apollo and Drake, who rapped over/sampled “A Little Bit” for a mixtape. Dabbling with hip hop wasn’t a massive shift for her, though, as it was always a part of Lykke Li’s live show, where you’ll likely hear a Rick Ross or Lil Wayne cover during the encore. But the desire to experiment clearly carried over onto this record.
With Wounded Rhymes, we’re not witnessing a complete re-brand, but the music is much darker, seductive and layered. The first single “Get Some,” a dancey tribal number, was released last November. Along with a new sound it would appear she’s trying to shed her cute Swedish girl image in favour of something artier and more sexed up. There’s a lot of gyrating, her underwear’s bejeweled with spikes and the chorus goes, “Like a shotgun needs an outcome. I’m your prostitute. Come get some.” But before you think she’s trying to become Sweden’s answer to Lady Gaga, the recently released single “I Follow Rivers” is a much more subdued number, in which Lykke Li assumes the role of that one weird girlfriend you had who was obsessed with you for no good reason.
All in all, Wounded Rhymes has the dark strangeness of Karin Dreijer Andersson (The Knife and Fever Ray) and the dance flavour of Robyn. With this successful sophomore effort, Lykke Li has earned her place in the canon of modern Swedish pop music. What else can one say but “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”
This article was published on The Tyee on March 10, 2011.