CD Review of Youth Novels by Lykke Li
Recommended if you like
Bjork, Regina Spector,
Peter Bjorn And John
LL Recordings/Warner Music
Lykke Li: Youth Novels

Reviewed by James B. Eldred


ykke Li (pronounced: I have no idea) is Sweden’s latest musical export. While the country has historically given the world its dance acts (Ace of Base, Robyn, a little group called Abba), in recent years they have turned their focus to the indie and alt-rock scenes. A few years ago, it was the Hives; more recently, they gave us Peter, Bjorn & John, who broke through with their whistle-heavy hit “Young Folk.” The Bjorn of that trio (Bjorn Ytlling) is the producer of Li's debut album, Youth Novels, but those expecting more Top 40-friendly indie-pop will be in for a shock, because Li is a decidedly left-of-center artist who crafts wonderfully crazy pop music.

The first single off Youth Novels is “Breaking It Up,” and if you’ve heard of Lykke Li, it's probably because of this song. It's a truly amazing track, and a hands-down contender for song of the year, as it keeps a bizarrely upbeat tone despite its depressing lyrics about falling out of love. As Li tells her lover “Darling, I'll leave and you come along,” the most upbeat hand-clapping and electronic tones accompany her – betraying her woeful sentiment. From there, it only gets crazier – first, there's the wonderfully cheery back-up singers who deliver their downbeat message (“If you're going abroad, I can't help you / If you're crossing the street, I won't be there”) with a strange, lovey-dovey conviction, followed by a totally random and out-of-place keyboard solo. Who knows what's going on here -- and who cares? It's totally awesome.

Although “Breaking It Up” is the obvious highlight of the album, there are plenty of other standout tracks on Youth Novels that showcase Li's one-of-a-kind songwriting and singing. “My Love” is the thematic opposite of “Breaking It Up,” an unabashed love song that has tinges of ‘50s surf rock and ‘60s doo-wop. “Tonight” also has a sound vaguely reminiscent of oldies pop, but with a strange ethereal quality thanks to Li’s echoing vocals. The tone of the entire album is one of melancholy sweetness, combining reflective and introspective lyrics with upbeat electronic music that borrows a little bit of everything from ‘80s electro to the previously mentioned genres. It's a formula that works wonders.

About the only time Li falters on Youth Novels is when she lets her wackiness overpower her songwriting. In fact, she stumbles right out of the gate with the meandering intro “Melodies & Desires,” which, ironically enough, has no melody and is just Li mumbling and whispering over some synth lines. She repeats the same disastrous formula with “The Trumpet in My Head” and “Complaint Department.” It's hard to tell what she's trying to accomplish with these songs, but whatever it is, it's not working.

Even with these slips, Youth Novels is one of the best debuts of the year, and is hopefully a sign of amazing things to come. Damn those Swedes and their catchy melodies, infections rhythms and clever lyrics. It's all a part of plan for world domination. That whole neutrality thing is a ruse -- you'll see.

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