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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Artfully Sore: A Review for Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes [by C.J. Bagundang]

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Lykke Li’s sudden burst into pop consciousness could be easily credited to how she sounded rather than the image she portrayed then. Considered one the most male-dominated year in indie music in the last decade, she made a name for herself midway 2008 right when Vampire Weekend, Cut/Copy, Fleet Foxes, M83 and TV on the Radio ruled the blogosphere with outstanding releases. That cute of a song “Just a Little Bit” made bloggers press pause to check what name does this child-like voice bear. That same moment, this Swedish star became engraved as one of the indie crushes next to Zooey Deschanel, Natasha Khan, Victoria Legrand and Jenny Lewis. Often described as “wise beyond her years” Lykke Li is nothing short of looking ruffian at the same time sweet and coy- holding a cig in the right hand while making Hula motions with the other.

Forward to now, the Scandinavian songstress after much promotions (which includes apparently watching her perform on the “moon”-the antic similar to that of Arcade Fire utilizing Google Earth almost mondo bizarro technique)  releases Wounded Rhymes via her own LL Recordings. Determined to wade away the sophomore curse, she had camped in the dessert, travelled much around the US then got in to the recording studio- all the while toying with the idea to have a record not bearing any likeness to Youth Novels (her debut).

“Youth Knows No Pain” starts strong with (what seems to be a variety of) African drums followed by an upbeat organ groove that for some strange reason recalls “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” by Smash Mouth. She sounds more inviting than ever singing Come together and join the parade/ And get back walk on lost in the trade/ With the plants and the shimmering beats/ With the wind in my hair, you're free.” This sort of engagement proves to be a double-edged sword. With song titles like “Sadness is a Blessing,” “Silent My Song” and “Unrequited Love,” hint that the listener is not in for a confetti party. The latter could pass as a Glee piece sounding to be the most emotionally accessible in its pop quality among the batch. The title is practically direct but her voice looms darker, breaking at the most crucial, riding over that soft guitar plucking and solid tapping layered over voices. In “Love Out of Lust,” Lykke Li made it obvious that she has thrown her coquettish cloak to the ditch and ready to take off. Channeling her inner shaman charm (check the album art if you must plus the promo videos for Wounded Rhymes), she sounds here most deep and engaging. While “I Follow Rivers” seeks approval to taunt someone, in “Love Out of Lust” she coos “honey don’t be afraid to dance while we’re waiting” cause the lady is now tired of acting damsel in distress and makes it known that in this track she intends to  take off dramatically, in full swing.

Though she declares “I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some” on the assertive “Get Some” it somehow misses the mark to pick up where some of the songs soar. The aforementioned plus “Rich Kids Blues,” “I Know Places” and  “Silent My Song” make up for the rich instrumentation but do not make the repeat button though it can be argued that in these tracks  she tries to lever the mood. However, “Jerome” taunts with ethereal vocals and catchy handclaps reminiscent of younger Lykke Li back in the days when she was “dance, dance, dance” –ing in her doll shoes. In this track, together with “Love Out of Lust” and “I Follow Rivers,” the artist sounds the fiercest and mostly destitute of light but the more piquant and provocative.

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Wounded Rhymes embodies Lykke Li’s desire to be one of those “badass women” as she mentions in most of her interviews. She admits she has a bit of a mood in herself and is in constant struggle in the music industry for being a woman. The Lykke Li in Youth Novels has pretty much worn off though how hard fans want to see it. Shambolic percussions, girl group vocals, gray lyrics and rich in stoicism- Wounded Rhymes comes strong with these qualities and she has risen triumphantly to display her persona in different ways. Reinventing herself sustained satisfaction to an extent but how far- that remains to the future. Though we want to sulk for her loss and the heartbreak before recording Wounded Rhymes, it works for the listeners' gain. Sadness can indeed be a blessing in this side of the world, pleasing at that.

Wounded Rhymes [LL Recordings]
March 2011
C.J. Bagundang is a contributing music journalist for "The Chair."

Watch Lykke Li's video of "I Follow Rivers" on Vevo/YouTube

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