Lykke Li

Photograph: Jos L. Knaepen

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

The glorious sound of Swedish pop is once again warming mainstream-American hearts thanks to Hollywood’s hit version of Mamma Mia! Yet more-observant listeners have spent the past few years enjoying records by a new breed of young Swedish tune makers—Robyn, the Concretes and El Perro Del Mar, to name a few—who don’t buy the absurd stateside notion that life underground requires an allergy to ear candy.

Lykke Li’s debut, Youth Novels, is one of the best of the bunch. Though she doesn’t craft melodies as indelible as ABBA’s—hey, who does?—the 22-year-old singer inherited that famous foursome’s idea of pop as a place for playing stylistic dress-up. (Partial credit for that freewheeling sensibility should also go to Li’s mom, who played in the Swedish postpunk band Tant Strul.) What sort of music do Li and her producer Björn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn and John) make here? Depends on the track: “Dance Dance Dance” is bare-bones cabaret-funk; “Let It Fall” is drum-machine doo-wop; “Little Bit” layers African guitar and fake steel drums over a chintzy electropop groove; while the tinkly lullaby “Melodies & Desires” has Li intoning sensually about how she’ll be the rhythm and you’ll be the beat (whatever that means).

As a singer, Li sometimes works a breathy baby-girl coo that can grate on ears not raised on a steady diet of English twee-core; other times she goes low and raspy. “Who cares who I am?” her music seems to say. “Let’s imagine who I can be.”

Lykke Li plays (Le) Poisson Rouge Aug 28 and Music Hall of Williamsburg Oct 20.

Buy Youth Novels now on

Youth Novels (Atlantic)