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Lykke Li's Youth Novels | A Pop Machine That's Got Moxie

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Artist: Lykke Li
Album: Youth Novels
Label: Atlantic Records
Release Date: August 19th, 2008

In a market where singer-songwriter-types like Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles can come to prominence virtually overnight, avant-pop songbird Lykke Li will invariably be left in the shadows. That's not to say there isn't any hope for some miraculous crossover, but it's more than unlikely. The primary reason for this being that the sum and substance of Li’s debut, Youth Novels, is off-kilter.

Nevertheless, Li’s masterful pop miniatures demonstrate a new breadth of handling, which can be partially attributed to the proficient knob-turning of Björn Yttling and Lasse Mårtén. The aforementioned production duo provides the perfect marriage of Swedish indie-rock and pop accoutrements. The impeccable construction merely paves the way for an elusive, spine-chilling quality that is inextricably tied to Scandinavian pop.

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Li’s eerily hushed melodies—waltzing and wafting in and out of the eardrum—certainly seem a bit too eccentric for the average American pop palate. Even worse, her sharp tongue, which grimly mocks contemporary pop motifs, may be easily misconstrued as some sort of heretical viewpoint.

Lykke Li - "Little Bit"

However, the blasé tone strewn throughout Li's impressive debut is indicative of her willingness to examine the uncharted realms of human experience. The album's promising lead track, "Little Bit," explores the notion of unrequited love through rather ambiguous language. As if by habit, Li continually equivocates, chanting, "I think I'm a little bit/ little bit/ a little bit in love with you/ But only if you're a little bit/ little bit/ little bit in lalalala love with me." And although her soaring melodies are built around--almost masked by--brilliantly acerbic wit, the lyrical progression predicates quite a bit about its subject.

Not unlike Victoria Bergsman, Li's voice gradually rises to a kind of eldritch singsong. As demonstrated in the saxophone-heavy "Dance Dance Dance," the simple, sing-along "Breaking It Up" and the 60s folk-inflected "My," her curious intonation tends to masquerade as a playful pop procession. But, ultimately, the peculiarly ornate ceremony retains an aura of mystery that is simply hard to shake.

Yet with a glut of contrived pop dominating the airwaves, the likelihood of Lykke Li's mainstream success is primarily contingent upon an Apple commercial or perhaps Perez Hilton's unassailable backing. And as bleak as it may seem, such contrived venues seldom produce any semblance of long-lasting success. In any case, this bohemian songstress has created a stand-alone album that constitutes new ground for pop, asserting that some day she will be rightfully heralded as the next big thing.