From ABBA in the 1970s to Robyn in the present day, Scandinavia in general and Sweden especially has deservedly earned a reputation as the motherland of pop sounds. Yet as a vocalist, musician and lyricist, Lykke Li is worlds apart from her compatriots.
So explicitly emotional are the songs of her recent debut album Youth Novels that they should come packaged with one of those infamous black and white Tipper Stickers. 'Parental Advisory: Contains Love, Loss, Elation, Tragedy, Erotica and Despair'. Listen as she seduces: "# For you I keep my legs apart and forget about my tainted heart #" on Little Bit. On Let It Fall, she mourns: “# I like it soft, I like it wet, I like my makeup in a mess so I cry hard/Let it fall, and I won't stop until my tears are all shed #”. She even philosophises like Eric Cantona did upon seagulls and trawlers: “# Yeah, I'm working to make butter for my piece of bun #” on I'm Good I'm Gone.
What is most striking is the unlikely dischord between these all encompassing themes and the shy innocence of her infantile Lolita voice, which reveals the Nabokovian jailbait attraction, the unconditional love and affection of a father that is congenitally engraved in the minds of men. These opposites are so at odds that they could not be reconciled by the vocal cords of any other simple singer-songwriter. And, whilst in awe of the voice that sings from her mouth, let us not overlook the voices that speak from the instruments of her musicians, as produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn And John. From the Morricone-inspired mariachi melodies of This Trumpet In My Head to the toe-tapping rhythm of the Murakami-inspired Dance Dance Dance, they too demonstrate a most impressive versatility.
Like The Pixies' Black Francis singing of monkeys going to heaven and bone machines, it is at times painfully apparent in Lykke Li's turn of phrase that English is not her native language. But name me another lady who could sing a line like “# I think I'm a little bit in lo-lo-lo-lo-love with you #", lavished with a profundity that the masterful pop of Cowell, Walsh, Fuller or even Waterman could never, ever manufacture, and I'll take back everything I've said. Suffice to say that I don't expect to eat my words any time soon.
words: Benjamin Thomas