Despite International Success, Lykke Li Keeps Her Music Intimate

Close Encounters
Despite international success, Lykke Li keeps her music intimate

Considering the music industry enjoys crowning a new “It Girl” every bit as much as Hollywood does, itNs almost predictable in retrospect that Swedish import Lykke Li took AmericaNs 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 N John—and youNve got a megawatt, indie-friendly hit on your hands.

Perhaps the greatest asset of Lykke LiNs rightfully fawned-over album Youth Novels is that, like Bon IverNs similarly breakthrough-destined For Emma, Forever Ago, it was put to tape with such incredible intimacy you feel like youNre the only one in the world listening. ThatNs 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 N John) also masterfully assembled Youth Novels as a genre-fusing aural escape every bit as vibrant yet spare as Lykke LiNs songs. ThereNs 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, “INm Good, INm Gone.”

“Bjorn and I have a very personal and strong working connection,” she confides. “ItNs very much a collaboration. His soul is part of the album as well as mine. ItNs 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 itNs tricky translating the recordNs intimacy for live audiences, she answers simply, “INm 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 albumNs enthusiastic reception, she admits, “INm very surprised and extremely thankful.” Like many musicians dutifully answering the obligations of their breakthrough album, sheNs been too caught up in life on the road to begin a follow-up yet. “INm still super-busy with touring, so I havenNt actually had the chance yet, but INm 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 wonNt do any good to try to detect lingering traces of those different locales on the personal, mixed-bag splendor of Youth Novels. “I actually donNt 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 albumNs 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 thatNs where YttlingNs contributions will wind up most apparent. There are considerable similarities between the baroque, electronics-buoyed pop of Peter Bjorn N JohnNs last album, WriterNs Block, and parts of Youth Novels, but thatNs to be expected.

At any rate, Lykke Li doesnNt 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 wouldnNt burn out so quickly and be replaced by the next ear- and eye-catching It Girl.


Lykke Li with Wildbirds N Peacedrums at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; Tues., 7 p.m. $17.50. All ages.

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