Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Album Review: Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes (4/5)

More and more the Swedes continue to prove they are masters of not just mass-produced pop music, but less mainstream pop subgenres too. Lykke Li got quite a bit of ink earlier this year as the indie pop act to watch--she even got a shout out from a Glee character bemoaning the show's tendency to cover only top 40 hits. Her second album, Wounded Rhymes, is a strong set of diverse songs grounded in a lo-fi production of booming drums and soulful '60s-era melodies. It's not as retro-kitsch as say Amy Winehouse or Duffy, but the Phil Spector-ish layering is definitely apparent on the track-heavy production. If '60s girlgroups were still around, she probably wouldn't join up, but she'd definitely be following them.

"Youth Knows No Pain" is a percussion-forward opener, followed by the gentler but tuneful "I Follow Rivers" and "Love Out of Lust," both with choruses that needle their way into your head with repeat listens. "Unrequited Love" stripes back the production layers to just a single guitar and some backing vocals, bringing Li's confident vocal to the fore. It's a bit folksy, in the way that Jenny Lewis sometimes was with Rilo Kiley. "I Know Places" is even more stripped down--just a raw vocal and acoustic guitar--until its dark, synth-based coda.

The album's middle delivers its best moments. "I'm your prostitute; you're gonna get some," declares Li on the fiery "Get Some," which charges along over buzzy synth bass and the unrepentant clatter of enough percussion to fill a small warehouse. "Rich Kid Blues," while less propulsive, fills out your headphones with multiple guitars and even some organ. "Sadness Is a Blessing" has the album's best hook, a sad and lovely tune with an unforgettable chorus. Closer "Silent My Song," in contrast, is its quirkiest tune, with a rhythm that sounds like bad plumbing, although I do like its big swooning chorus.

As I work my way through my albums queue, this was one I wasn't initially sold on. It often takes a while (if ever) for quirky indie pop to sink in, but when it does, it's often worth it--something I can appreciate in the long term, and I've listened to this enough since last April that's its gotten through to me.

Best: Sadness Is a Blessing, Get Some, Youth Knows No Pain, I Follow Rivers.

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