Lykke Li, Youth Novels
There's no mistaking the power beneath Lykke Li's breathiness
"I'm shy, shy, shy," insists Swedish pop sensation Lykke Li (pronounced "Lick-eh Lee") on her 2008 debut, Youth Novels, recorded when she was 21 years old. Indeed, even when they're accompanied by pulsing beats or blaring trumpets, her vocals sound soft and fragile — all schoolgirl blushes and sidelong glances. But while Li may be young and green and even a bit clumsy from time to time, there's no mistaking the power beneath her breathiness. If youth novels are stories about the pleasures and adversities of coming-of-age, then Youth Novels features Li as its plucky protagonist — an alluring heroine who flirts and sighs and stumbles on her way to finding her own distinctive voice.
The album kicks off with one of those stumbles — the first song, "Melodies and Desires," along with "This Trumpet in My Head," are spoken word tracks that feel like misfired attempts to be "deep," a la junior high poetry and gloppy literary journals. Much more satisfying — and seemingly more earnest — is Li's perversely joyful ode to crying, "Let It Fall": "I like it salt, I like it wet/I like my makeup in a mess." "I'm Good, I'm Gone" is a handclap-driven paean to the rewards of hard work — a girlier version of "Eye of the Tiger" that blithely merges softness and strength.
In "Dance, Dance, Dance" an awkwardly seductive Li hopes that her body can communicate the things she's too timid to say. She returns to this theme in album standout "Little Bit," a hooky come-on in which Li coyly considers swallowing her pride and confessing amorous feelings, but only if the object of her affections is also willing to make the leap: "I would do it, push a button, pull a trigger, climb a mountain/Jump off a cliff 'cause you know baby/ I love you, love you/A little bit." It's a hushed contemplation of how it might feel to be on the precipice of something wonderful — to summon up the guts to make that leap to find out, vulnerability be damned. It's this sort of confidence that imbues Lykke Li's energetic live performances, proof that despite her quiet recordings, she's growing bigger and bolder every day. After all, the best youth novels are those in which the main character takes risks and through sheer determination, she ends up on top.