Music Reviews
Wounded Rhymes

Lykke Li Wounded Rhymes

(LL Recordings) Rating - 9/10

Without prompting an existential crisis, we’re all human, we all have our highs and lows – we live out the most compelling moments of our wonderful, brief flickers of existence through our emotions, from our deepest miseries to our worthiest triumphs. If there’s any truth to such a suggestion, it seems Li Lykke Timotej Zachrissonhas has lived a life that defies her tender years. Lykke Li, her stage name, is a pretty 25 year old from Sweden, who first broke into the pop world consciousness in 2008 with her first record, Youth Novels, and one who, by her own admission, uses music to say that which is “too hard to actually tell people”. While such a concept is hardly surprising, the way in which she does it may just be something exceptional.

Wounded Rhymes is no different as the title so aptly suggests. It opens with the goading rhythms of Youth Knows No Pain as Lykke Li tempts “Come on, get down… / Yeah honey blow yourself to pieces / Yeah honey give yourself completely”. Its self-destructive call to arms: a liberating dictum for what’s to come. Scary? Perhaps. Seductive? Certainly.

And so she gives herself… completely: beginning with second single, I Follow Rivers, it’s xylophone tinkle and stomping keyboard giving way to her pleading request: “Oh I beg you, can I follow”. It’s not in the least bit desperate; it’s triumphant and honest – a tenderly potent dedication of her love for the one she asks to “be the water / when I wade in”.

Perhaps that love is finally realized and tangible – a Love Out Of Lust. Where it is tested she responds in defiance “we can cross rivers with our will”, and over the slow-marching drums a carefully wrought anthem of defiance takes shape.

Much of this record has this tone of defiance, in its at times violent basslines and infectious choruses. So too, the riotous Get Some goes some way proving she’s as much Lady Gaga as Laura Marling, but the resentment translates better to the likes of Rich Kids Blues – where to a threatening soundtrack Lykke Li snarls “I’ve got the rich kid’s blues / and it’s got nothing to do with you”. Such examples, however, are certainly not what make this album unique. Lykke Li holds to her regal aesthetic and simple drum and bass lines doggedly; whether stripped down or ramped up she has a well crafted, appealingly consistent sound, and it’s what she puts over this that completes it. She writes with simple elegance, dealing in certainties and metaphors that are clear and open, and it works because she understands that its strength is in conveying lines that feel heartfelt and truly sincere. By all means good song writing should be witty and clever, but to stoke a bit of empathy is no bad thing – after all, we, the, listeners are only human too.

Two of the album’s finest moments stem from such a philosophy. Unrequited Love’s acoustic guitars and cooled ‘50s ‘shoo wop’ backing vocals allow Lykke Li to divulge her perceptions that “all my life I’ve been denied it / all my love is unrequited” for a gut-wrenching but brilliant 3 minutes. Meanwhile Sadness Is A Blessing is a sublimely sombre thing – and one that climaxes in a glorious nihilism with the line “Sadness is a blessing / Sadness is a curse / Sadness I’m your boyfriend / Oh Sadness I’m your girl”.

This album is not faultless, and at times it is arguably a little too grim and joyless to entirely hold its audience. In moving firmly away from the happier pop tone of her debut Lykke Li has nonetheless made a better record. Yes, this album is sad and fiercely raw; but it’s never wearying; at times even uplifting, and always convincing. And as the viciously cruel Silent My Soul closes the album, Lykke Li describes a time when she can’t “tell if I am living / or just holding on…”; you can’t help but allow Wounded Rhymes to provoke and manipulate your emotions, with an inviting melodic gloom and an outstretched hand. Is it something a bit special? Yes, it is.