For the record, Lykke Li has one of the most punnish stage names in all of the pop world.
Fortunately the obvious jokes are no reflection on the talents of this fledgling Swedish singer (real name: Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson), whose high soft voice and uniquely pretty music are reminiscent of singers like El Perro Del Mar, Hanne Hukkelberg and Stina Nordenstam. And her full-length debut "Youth Novels" is an exquisite one -- wistful, bittersweetly elfin songs set to deceptively simple-sounding electro-folkpop.
It opens with a gentle stream of piano and strings, as Lykke Li quietly instructs a lover on how to hold her. "Follow these instructions/Do exactly as I do... Love is the harmony/Desire is the key/Love is a symphony/Now play it with me..."
Things pick up with the more "Dance Dance Dance," a simple little song about expressing your feelings via dancing ("When I'm shaking my hips/Look for the swing/The words are written in the air"), and the plunkin piano of "I'm Good I'm Gone" ("Well, say you're not 'cause when I'm gone/You'll be callin' but I won't be at the phone!"). But things start relaxing with the jazzier pop melody of "Let It Fall."
From there, Lykke Li explores some of the more mellow niches -- she tries out haunting folk songs tinged with synth, melancholy guitar pop, exquisitely wistful ballads, dark electropop, and a weird experimental number where she spends a long time muttering "can't get that trumpet outta my head... I woke up the night... can't get that trumpet outta my head!" The album ends on a rather dark note with the stomping ballad "Window Blues ("Don't go all soft on me/don't come across for me/don't lose your selfish ways over me...."
The entire "Youth Novels" album has a feeling of bittersweet intimacy -- it's sitting with a friend whose heart has just started to heal, and watching the snowflakes flutter down outside the window. And while the first couple songs are a bit on the lightweight side, Lykke Li quickly expands her repertoire and shows just how many kinds of pop she can do. Well, she does them all pretty well.
And her music is also very pretty -- we've got a bit of jazz, a bit of indie pop, and a veil of pale, soft electronica laid over it all like a blanket. She even does some experimentation in such songs as "Can't Get That Trumpet Out Of My Head" and the peppier "Dance Dance Dance." The latter is the most mellow, downtempo dance song I've ever heard -- and most of it is just drums and a tapped bell.
The rest of the time, you can hear a delicate web of solid instrumentation -- half-smothered saxophone, a folky acoustic guitar, a xylophone, piano melodies that can be heavy or tinkly as the song demands, a bit of kettle drum, and stretches of gentle plaintive strings. Oh yes, and some moments of buzzy dark synthpop, like in the gloriously dark "Complaint Department," and a swirling Spanish guitar that winds through "Can't Get That Trumpet Out Of My Head."
And then there's the vocals. This girl has a voice of spun glass and sunlit icicles, and regardless of what she sings she sounds incredibly sweet and fragile. Despite some awkward moments ("For you I keep my legs apart" -- ouch), her lyrics are also quite sweet -- the absence of love is painful and sometimes breaking up makes you anry, while love's presence brings you shyness, joy and defensiveness. Just look at the one about communicating love through dance.
"Youth Novel" is everything a debut album should be. While it's a bit fluffy at the start, it soon becomes obvious that Lykke Li is a master of many kinds of electropop. Definitely keep an eye on this girl.