“Shoo-wop shoo-wah.” “I’m your prostitute.” “Dance while you can.”
At the drop of a programmed snare hit, Lykke Li, the Swedish princess of off-beat art-pop, can turn from sugar-coated sweetheart to devilish temptress to futuristic night club siren. That sense of fluctuating identity is what made her debut album, 2008’s Youth Novels such a fascinating listen—her experimental palette ran the gamut from straightforward synth-pop to borderline avant-garde. Li’s catchiest tracks were loaded with big dollops of the weird stuff, and her adventurous touches weren’t enough to scare off casual listeners (demonstrated by her invitation to work on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack). Lots of captivating moments, but it’s almost as if Li, in working that middle ground between experimentation and catchiness, wasn’t quite sure who she wanted to be.
Since Youth Novels, adventurous female art-pop artists like Bat for Lashes and Charlotte Gainsbourg both released excellent albums (Two Suns and IRM, respectively) that mined a similar sonic trajectory—but did so with more precision and innovation. Luckily, on Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li has stepped up her game, crafting a brasher, more well-rounded effort that fully realizes the potential she showed on her debut. Youth Novels was a cool little hand-drawn doodle done in pencil—this is an oil painting, rich with color and more vivid detail.
Li’s voice is basically a mixture of every great female art-pop artist you’ve heard: there’s a bit of Kate Bush’s alien whine, a pinch of Bat for Lashes smoke-screen atmospherics, even a hint of fellow Swedish pop sensation Robyn’s sassy croon. Tribal sounds loom large, kettle drums popping holes in the mix over deadpan synths and cozy blankets of noise. She’s got hooks, too—over the hip-shaking percussive clatter and spook-house organ of opener “Youth Knows No Pain,” Li mumbles an invitation to “Come on, get down!” and it’s a pain in the ass trying to resist. But my favorite track on Wounded Rhymes is the ambient, crawling instrumental “Ladies Love,” a sensual, misty garden of lush synths and chiming guitars that elicits space-flight in a brief two minutes, even without melodic cushion.
Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.