March 2, 2011

Test Spin: Lykke Li

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In a recent interview with Indie juggernaut Pitchfork.com, Swedish songbird Lykke Li reflected on the intricate and thorny process of creating her second album, musing that it is “not a very sane thing to try to be great all the time.” From listening to Li’s sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes, it seems that Li may have put too much effort into preserving her sanity. The great moments, although they exist, are overwhelmed by clutter.

While I fully support musicians that strive to progress and develop as an artist, I can’t help but be conflicted over Lykke Li’s new sound. The airy and bare-bones approach of Li’s first album, Youth Novels, has been replaced by pounding tribal percussion, resounding church organs and far too much reverb. For other artists this approach would usually merit success, but the fragile tenderness and delightful contradiction between innocence and sexual appeal that Lykke Li exudes is lost amongst all of the noise. Songs like “Youth Knows No Pain” and “Rich Kid Blues” have complex and lively beats, enjoyable in their own right until the first verse begins, revealing the incompatibility between Li’s voice and the dense noise behind it.

Wounded Rhymes gains its highpoints when Li returns to a more stripped-down sound, ridding off the excess that plagues the majority of the songs. The strumming acoustic guitar that serves as the only backdrop to Li’s crooning on “I Know Places” creates an ethereal and rich composition unlike any other on the album. Thanks to this simplistic and hauntingly beautiful approach, you can’t help but believe Li when she sings: “No, the high won’t hurt you there babe.”

Where others have celebrated Wounded Rhymes as a vibrant and fresh step-forward by Ms. Li, the fragile and intoxicatingly melancholy sound Li exuded on her first album remains transfixing. Li’s brazen sexuality is occasionally complimented by the rougher and more bluesy approach of her second work, but the denseness of the songs and overwhelming production isn’t able to showcase Li at her best — gorgeous, heartbroken and so enchanting that you can’t help but fall in love.

– Sarah Angell

Original Author: Sarah Angell