Wounded Rhymes (LL)
The rhythmic hush of Lykke Li's 2008 debut Youth Novels begged plenty of caveats to the "pop singer" tag—she's certainly miles away from the bubblegum electropop of fellow Swede Robyn. But this follow-up album makes it clearer that Li, for all her indie cred, is pure pop, and asserts her as a major player in the genre's widening blur. Superficially, Wounded Rhymes isn't terribly different from Youth Novels; the sound is still rooted in indie-rock full-band arrangements (only "I Follow Rivers" is halfway suited for the dance floor), with occasional breaks ("I Know Places") that let Li's voice speak mostly for itself.
The difference is confidence. From the snarling circus organ of the opener "Youth Knows No Pain" to the tastefully lush "Sadness Is a Blessing," Lykke Li's songs, arrangements, and persona have matured significantly, and Wounded Rhymes isn't shy about flaunting the benefits. Though the floor-tom stomp of "Get Some" shows off a confrontational side (as does the alt-rock "Rich Kid Blues," the album's only real misstep), more prevalent is a vulnerability that seemed too tightly guarded even in Youth Novels' best moments but blossoms delicately on tracks like "Love Out of Lust" and the plaintive doo-wop of "Unrequited Love." If the evolution is as effortless as she makes it seem, Lykke Li may just end up a pop star.