By Daniel Kohn
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Considering the music industry enjoys crowning a new “It Girl” every bit as much as Hollywood does, it’s almost predictable in retrospect that Swedish import Lykke Li took America’s music press by storm last year and now stands poised to reap the benefits on her latest stateside tour. Factor in her land of origin and its habit of yielding musical talent—recent years have seen the Shout Out Louds, Love Is All, the Knife, and Peter Bjorn & John—and you’ve got a megawatt, indie-friendly hit on your hands.
Perhaps the greatest asset of Lykke Li’s rightfully fawned-over album Youth Novels is that, like Bon Iver’s similarly breakthrough-destined For Emma, Forever Ago, it was put to tape with such incredible intimacy you feel like you’re the only one in the world listening. That’s especially true of the hushed, self-reflective “Dance Dance Dance” (“I was a dancer all alone,” she pouts), even as it unassumingly climbed year-end lists and peeked out from the playlists at coffee shops and bookstores everywhere. Somehow, Lykke Li made us a global collective of almost painfully close confidantes.
Credit goes not just to her breathy, youthful vocals or exquisite, wistful way with lyrics. But producer Bjorn Yttling (as in Peter Bjorn & John) also masterfully assembled Youth Novels as a genre-fusing aural escape every bit as vibrant yet spare as Lykke Li’s songs. There’s stilted steel drum on the playfully thumping “Little Bit,” an analog warmth to “Let It Fall,” a surreal canned chorus on “Breaking It Up,” and a Madonna-worthy dance-pop sheen to the biggest single, “I’m Good, I’m Gone.”
“Bjorn and I have a very personal and strong working connection,” she confides. “It’s very much a collaboration. His soul is part of the album as well as mine. It’s very hard to draw the line, but the album is my life and my lyrics and my voice. He kind of pulls the strings and make sure it gets done.” Asked whether it’s tricky translating the record’s intimacy for live audiences, she answers simply, “I’m the same person everywhere.”
Over the course of her childhood, Lykke Li (born Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson) lived in both Sweden and Portugal, spending winters in India with her family. She talked her way into gigs around New York City as an intrepid 19-year-old, and a year later, she began recording Youth Novels. Now 22, she displays an early-career steadiness reminiscent of her friend and fellow Swedish pop star Robyn. She initially showed her determination by choosing to release the album via her own LL Records, a profitable move that, in her eyes, was borne of necessity.
“I wanted to have full control of my music, which is my life. There was never another option,” she says. As for the album’s enthusiastic reception, she admits, “I’m very surprised and extremely thankful.” Like many musicians dutifully answering the obligations of their breakthrough album, she’s been too caught up in life on the road to begin a follow-up yet. “I’m still super-busy with touring, so I haven’t actually had the chance yet, but I’m dying to work on new stuff.”
Straddling countries and languages all her life, Lykke Li has a noticeably more mature outlook than most young stars. At the same time, it won’t do any good to try to detect lingering traces of those different locales on the personal, mixed-bag splendor of Youth Novels. “I actually don’t think all those places influenced my music as much as other people like to think,” she says. In fact, she clarifies, “Dark, winter days in Stockholm have a stronger influence on my sound.”
As for the album’s lively sonic path, running from pop and rock to folk and electro, it was never her intention to pursue any genre, let alone combine them. Perhaps that’s where Yttling’s contributions will wind up most apparent. There are considerable similarities between the baroque, electronics-buoyed pop of Peter Bjorn & John’s last album, Writer’s Block, and parts of Youth Novels, but that’s to be expected.
At any rate, Lykke Li doesn’t like the idea of genres in the first place. “Those genres sound weird,” she says. “I never intend to do anything. I just follow my mood of the day and the flow in the studio.”
If more pop sensations her age did the same, perhaps they wouldn’t burn out so quickly and be replaced by the next ear- and eye-catching It Girl.
Lykke Li with Wildbirds & Peacedrums at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Tues., 7 p.m. $17.50. All ages.