Lykke Li - Youth Novels
Genre: Lo-fi scandipop
by Max MacBride
Like most things worth bothering about in life, Li Lykke Timotej Zahrisson (Lykke Li for short) is a bundle of seeming contradictions. Already being hyped in ominous proportions by the blogosphere, the 21-year-old Swede has produced an album full of some of the year's loveliest, most compelling sounds.
By turns achingly vulnerable - to the point that you fear she might not actually make it to the end of the song - and defiantly detached and brazen, Li Lykke effortlessly combines a leftfield sensibility with an uncanny knack for a hook in a manner which echoes many of her Scandipop contemporaries. In fact, the production here of Bjorn (of indie darlings Peter, Bjorn and John) ensures that the delicate, spacious production which was the hallmark of that band's debut release last year is again put to excellent use.
Lykke Li's biog is suitably bohemian - she was apparently raised on a hill in Portugal by hippie parents with nothing but a copy of Madonna's 'The Immaculate Collection' for company. Despite the unconventional upbringing, though, and as the album title suggests, Lykke Li comes armed with a glittering array of melodies sure to resonate from coffee table to council estate.
The gorgeous 'Little Bit', all breathy, cutesy vocals (destined to enchant and enfuriate in equal measure) and subtle consignments of synth and mandolin could well prove to be every bit as ubiquitous as Peter, Bjorn and John's 'Young Folks' last year. So, all the more reason to enjoy it before it becomes unavoidable. Opening with the couplet, "Hands down, I've always been too shy, for love. But with eyes closed, it's you I'm thinking of." it's sublime, but if this has you reaching for the sick bucket then Lykke Li probably isn't for you. Elsewhere, the piano-driven strut of 'I'm Good, I'm Gone' finds our protagonist in unforgiving mood. "If you say I aim too high from down below, well say it now cos when I'm gone, you'll be calling but I won't be at the phone."
As unfortunate as it is to compare music in any form to furniture - especially when it's intended as a compliment - there are undeniable similarities in the success of the current wave of the Swedish Invasion (Peter, Bjorn and John, The Knife, Robyn, Jens Lekman et al) and everybody's favourite meatball outlet, IKEA. Both espouse a devotion to economy, minimalism, clean lines and the combination of simple, well-constructed parts (alright, maybe this is where the analogy falls down).
When Li gets it right - and to be fair, for the most part she does - the effect is startlingly beautiful. Throbbing, overdriven bass combines with scattershot glimpses of lo-fi percussion to build an understated, but nonetheless engaging platform for Li's fragile vocal wanderings. Ultimately though, whilst the production demands attention, it leaves no hiding place for Lykke Li, and the songs stand and fall on her performance. At times it seems her ambition gets the better of her - the electro-clunk of 'Complaints Department' and the pseudo-philosophising of 'Melodies and Desires' need not be lingered on.
You can forgive her these stutters, though, because in the main Youth Novels is smart, intimate and utterly compelling.