If Lykke Li's consistent (yet commercially underwhelming) debut record was any indication, she had a lot more to offer us than eclectic musical compositions with hooks that tend to stick. And that promise is certainly recognized on the supremely excellent "Wounded Rhymes", her sophomore record, and one that should solidify her place amongst todays' best independent artists. A record of this sort will perhaps never be a million-seller; and probably won't even reach a fraction of the audience that fellow Swede Robyn did last year with her stupendous "Body Talk", but as a work of art it is virtually flawless. The only flaw, if one can call it that, is that it is somewhat short in length.
The theme of the record, as indicated by the cryptic album cover, is love and loss. What is interesting about Lykke Li, is that she doesn't really seem to care so much about love, but rather seems more focussed on consequences of it. An interesting take, but this leads to some great songwriting - the lyrics here seem straightforward but are in fact rather indecipherable at times - and the music more than appropriately backs it up.
The standout track (amongst an album full of standouts, one might add) is the riveting "I Follow Rivers" - which is literally overflowing with metaphor and meaning - the glacial overtones of the instrumentation were not lost on the director of the music video to this fascinating piece of music - and it encapsulates what the entire record is all about. The same can be said of the slow-burner "Silent my Song" - a track that reveals itself in stages and only upon multiple listens. Throughout the album, there is a sense of open space & Nordic wilderness - a running theme through Lykke's records in general - but more so in this one. This gives it a chance to sonically 'open up' in ways that can be experienced best on only a hi-fi music system. On the flipside, there are things about it best experienced on headphones - the stark difference between playing this on a huge system and on a minimalist system is quite something - its like two entirely different albums - both just as essential and spellbinding.
Listen, this may not be everyones kind of music. I'm more a Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, Devendra Banhart, & Joanna Newsom kind of guy, so my tastes veer toward the obscure, and for lack of a better word, 'freak folk' movement. However, Scandinavia has been regularly producing some truly sensational artists - Stina Nordenstam comes to mind, but most talented would perhaps be Lykke Li, and the even more obscure Frida Hyvonen and her sophomore album "Silence is Wild". If moody, dark, minimalist icy pop is what youre after, Lykke Li is exactly the kind of artist that should do it for you. Also, and it bears repeating, this is an album that has immense repeat value - which of course is always the hallmark of an instant classic.
Five Stars. Definitely in the running for Album of the Year 2011.