Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes

Lykke Li
Wounded Rhymes
(Atlantic Records)

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Swedish songstress Lykke Li is back after three years since her debut, Youth Novels.  Her new disk, Wounded Rhymes, is a 10-track journey through the lessons of youth and young love, and is packed with melodramatic pop hymns and redemptive gospel ballads. Or is it?

Oddly, the overall tone of this album appeared more optimistic at first glance and less “wounded’ than her debut—almost as if the two titles should be switched.

As a cynic, it took a few spins of this record to appreciate it. On her debut album, I loved the quirky innocence of “Everybody but Me” and the morose introspection of “Hanging High, so I was disappointed when the first two tracks on Wounded Rhymes sounded like upbeat youth chants. However, upon closer inspection, it seems Li might have been sending us a warning.

In “Youth Knows No Pain” she sings, “Come laugh away who you are and get down / Cut yourself to pieces / Give yourself completely.” When you’re young it’s easy to fall into an escapist attitude, partaking in whatever comes your way, as experimentation seems the quickest route to freedom. The title then reflects not happiness but numbness. Similarly, “I Follow Rivers” seems to be a song about destruction disguised as commitment. In the music video, Lykke is following a man through “dark doom” tundra, almost following him into the ocean– hence, by proving our love and dedication to someone who is self-destructive, we might end up drowning ourselves.

“Love Out of Lust” is a heartfelt, thundering ballad about experiencing love, even if it’s just sex in disguise, while “Rich Kid’s Blues” evokes images of Andy Warhol’s Factory.  “I Know Places” is the most reassuring track here (especially the last two instrumental minutes) and is undoubtedly my favorite, although there’s definitely an underlying sadness to these still waters.

“Get Some,” with its addictive tribal beat (a la M.I.A.) and bold, carnal video (a la Lady Gaga), might have you thinking this song is about sex, when more accurately it seems a satire on media prostitution (which makes me wonder what Lykke’s opinions on Gaga are).

The closing track, “Silent My Song,” is a devastating dirge, but through its shades of suffering, it actually becomes devastatingly beautiful. Still, if you thought “Possibility” was Lykke at her most vulnerable, listen to this track.

Not many artists have the guts to open a vein and let it bleed through the entire record. But experience and success change everything, for better or worse; you’re in the realm of extremes— sex and death, no turning back.  I’m not sure if this is what Lykke intended, but this album quite literally feels like being stranded on a sheet of ice alone, as it starts to crack… So perhaps this album is for wounded cynics after all.

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