The opposite of sugar and spice, ‘Wounded Rhymes’ is the second album from the Swedish singer Lykke Li, who has teamed up with co-writer and producer Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John success), to concoct a haunting and powerful follow-up record to her 2008 ‘Youth Novels’.
At just 24 years old, Lykke is anything but sweet and girly. Assertive opening track ‘Youth Knows No Pain’ introduces the hollow kettle-drum percussion giving the whole album a tribal feel, while the irony of the song’s title sets the standard for what is to be a lyrically emotional but always edgy album.
The bubbling, incantatory introduction to what must be the most accomplished track on the record, ‘I Follow Rivers’, gives way to the Swede’s distinctive sinewy vocals, while the production, highly effective, never dominates over the voice. Crashing cymbals and gritty electric guitar compliment the up-beat drumming in ‘Get Some’, whilst the echoing backing vocals of ‘I Know Places’ adds to the sensation that this record is one full of ghosts.
While Lykke Li is generally preoccupied with pain in her lyrics, the songstress doesn’t try to appeal for sympathy, and in the song ‘Rich Kids Blues’, she will get none. But in others, her acceptance of life’s blows – which could so easily have otherwise over-spilled into self-pity – nevertheless achieves genuine pangs of sadness and longing in the listener, making the record ultimately a stirring one.
Highlights of the album, which is four songs shorter than her last, include ‘Jerome’, in which rattling shakers and rhythmic hand-claps rise to a triumphant chorus. ‘Silence My Song’ ends the record with a track that sounds like it’s coming from some cavernous underworld, with deep bass percussion and the sounds of a booming mustering horn undercutting the eerie vocals.
There’s no denying the fact that this is a plaintive record and one that when it ends, may induce a sense of quiet relief as well as satisfaction. But Lykke Li and her team know how to make sure a track doesn’t get bogged down in gloominess by consistently sustaining an exciting newness to the sound which while not always lively, is certainly alive.
Affecting and hip in equal measure, Lykke will have you wondering whether to listen to her bewitching tones in silent contemplation or get up and move to her primal beats; either way she casts a brilliant spell.