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Lydia Hughes

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Lykke Li: Providing the Soundtrack to Your Life

Posted: 07/27/11 07:03 PM ET

It was a YouTube video I randomly stumbled across one day that compelled me to buy Lykke Li's second album Wounded Rhymes. As I watched the acoustic version of 'I'm Good, I'm Gone' from her debut album Youth Novels, I was introduced to an alternative singer-songwriter from Sweden who, at just 25, is miles ahead of her tender age.

The video is both visually and aurally indicative of experimentation -- and of a young woman who isn't afraid of embracing it, either. The span of instruments is kaleidoscopic; twisting and changing in sections throughout the song, encouraging you look at music-making in a different light. At the start of the video she presses play to a dictaphone that sounds mellow music you could imagine playing from a gramophone, as an elderly couple dance in their parlour, rekindling loving courtship memories of old.

Like the queen has two birthdays, this version of 'I'm Good, I'm Gone' has two introductions. When Li finally puts down the dictaphone, she replaces it for a megaphone as she negotiates her way into the second opening. At this point, the deep, monotone roll of Li's voice, combined with her direct and frowning gaze into nothingness, transforms her into an oracle-like figure; the acting portal to a higher being's prophetic message. There's no attention paid to bystanders -- even when sharing a microphone with the acclaimed Robyn. And the other contributors seem almost residual, too; they appear to act like cogs in her brain or muscles in her tongue as they help her to communicate what she, at times, finds difficult to say by herself. The result it just like crossing a 'no entry' fence. It's not really the done thing but its exciting all the same.

In her debut album she almost comes across as stoic, whereas in Wounded Rhymes -- still compelling the same level of fascination and appeal -- she resonates greater power and the need to take control. Youth Novels was far more pensive, yes. Wounded Rhymes, on the other hand, demonstrates that contemplation alone will no longer suffice; now she's ready to tell you exactly how she feels.

Using her newly-discovered strength, she communicates vendetta through the form of song. And far from airing her anguish in a way that looks as though she's speaking in tongues (like the acoustic 'I'm Good, I'm Gone' video appears to do), it's clear that in her new album Wounded Rhymes she's the only one doing the talking. Far more ballsy; It's dark, and she's dangerous.

Li will defend that how she looks isn't so important -- rather, it's about what she has to say -- but being able to see her self-progress in the flesh makes the redundancy of image impossible. Visually, we get to read Li, not just hear her. With the music muted, her image, her gaze, and the way she moves all help us to understand who she is, and, to a certain degree, what she is trying to say. Image is therefore essential.

In the 'Get Some' video we see a Li transformed. She still wears the unbroken stare that would kill if it could. The dark shroud that envelopes her and trance-inducing moves make you feel that she's someone to be fearful of. The constant, palpating beating of drums and her blazon bare feet represent her to be wildly primitive, whilst the moans and screams detectable in the background add to her powerful provocativeness; a new lease of Li. Lyrics such as 'got you round my finger like a lonely lover's charm' reinforces her desire to become the puppeteer instead of the puppet, giving her that confidence and edge that lacked somewhat before.

But even though this time around she is illuminated as a woman of strength, her lyrics and track titles -- 'Youth Knows No Pain,' for example -- suggest that as a young woman the cut of love has finally begun to sting and still weeps. Her voice is certainly powerful, and you can tell there's a spark in her belly which is soon about to burst into fire, but for now the embers of vulnerability still glow amid the dysphoria and heartache. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- it's rather endearing if you ask me -- and through song we are able to map her person developing before us, getting stronger and more powerful by the second. By doing this, Li has been able to reach out to thousands; she is creating music that people can identify with easily. Many would go so far as to say that she's providing the soundtrack to their lives.

Album number three is sure to be her biggest success yet -- musically, romantically and personally. And although I truly look forward to it's release, I'll admit that I feel slightly fearful of the female victor to come.

 

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