Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Lykke Li: Youth Novels

Written by Mike Williams
Youth Novels begins with a spoken word intro that makes me feel like I’ll either puke up the ball of repression that I stuffed down my throat aged fifteen or stab the first person who walks into the room with a pen, harder and faster and faster and faster. It’s the worst kind of Youth Novels, the kind I dreaded it would be. I prayed for Salinger and got, My Parents Don’t Understand Me instead. No No No, please make it stop. And then it does, and something amazing happens.
Youth Novels begins with a spoken word intro that makes me feel like I’ll either puke up the ball of repression that I stuffed down my throat aged fifteen or stab the first person who walks into the room with a pen, harder and faster and faster and faster. It’s the worst kind of Youth Novels, the kind I dreaded it would be. I prayed for Salinger and got, My Parents Don’t Understand Me instead. No No No, please make it stop. And then it does, and something amazing happens.

“Dance Dance Dance” kicks in and I’m listening to surely one of the best albums I’m likely to hear this year. A bundle of leftfield pop, kneaded and rolled out into an energetic soul filled twenty-two year old Swedish starlet called Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson, now known as the sparkling Lykke Li.

Apart from a moment about two-thirds into the album where Li reverts to her adolescent spoken word disaster in, “This Trumpet In My Head,” Youth Novels puts aside its shaky opening to blossom into an unmitigated triumph of unabashed pop music, confirming Scandinavia, and Sweden in particular, as forward thinking pop royalty.
 
Everything about Youth Novels is pop, yet you won’t find a generic moment on the album. “Little Bit,” buzzing online since late last year, is as fragile and fraught as you like, but strong and well built enough to surely be a big summer hit; “Breaking It Up,” which wouldn’t be out of place on the Justice album, takes an infectious piano line and a chorus of Lykke Lis, punctuating the melody with stabs of snares and synthetic hand claps, all of which combine to make the album’s most complete song. This and “Complaint Department,” a sketchy, fractured electro track, where Li sounds more like a guest vocalist than the proprietor, give Youth Novels a diversity and depth that should see it attract fans from a plethora of backgrounds—and by that I mean little girls, skinny jean scenesters, chin scratch nodders, and car radio consumers should all fall for her charms.

I’m none of the above, and I still love this album, which gets better by the listen. Produced by Björn Yttling of Peter Björn and John, the album was originally released in Sweden in February, and gets a full UK and American release in June. To what level Yttling’s production has shaped the album, I don’t know, but the ear for melody that Peter Björn and John display is here for sure. What is also here is a real respect for Li’s voice and the experimental nature of it, always giving her the space to try something new.

For me and my taste, the best song is “Everybody But Me,” which uses a simple call and response chorus to deliver a warmly painful slice of young life, and whether it’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or JoJo, call and response seems to work for me; but here, it sinks me. It’s three minutes when I remember that I used to be young and see the world with the kind of eyes that saw possibilities instead of problems, and hear it with the kind of ears that welcomed sounds of adolescent expression rather than rejected them with threats of violence. On that note, this record is almost perfect pop.

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