The Soundtrack to Your Break Up
When Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li burst into the American music scene in 2008 with her debut LP Youth Novels, she seemed like the next up-and-coming Scandinavian pop star—quirky and individualistic, with an album full of songs produced by Björn Yttling, one-third of the hip trio Peter, Björn, and John. But on I Never Learn, Li’s compact third album, there’s little upbeat pop to be found.
The album’s single, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” signals this right away. It starts with soft acoustic guitar and Li’s lush, quavering vocals, creating the pared-down intimacy of a dimly-lit coffee shop. “Even though it hurts / Even though it scars, /…/ love me like I’m not made of stone,” she sings, laying herself bare and vulnerable. There are no glitzy effects or affectations, just a girl and her guitar, singing about a relationship gone sour.
The album’s closer, “Sleeping Alone,” is likewise a poignant testament to Li’s ability to create an honest, approachable song. Her plaintive vocals, slow, spare piano chords, and simple but relatable lyrics make it the quintessential break up song. “Will I get used to it? / Can I forget you? / Don’t want to get used to sleeping alone,” she sings. But “we’ll meet again,” she chants in the chorus, leaving a ray of hope for recovery and moving on.
The rest of I Never Learn may not have quite the emotional impact of those two tracks, but it does show Li firmly eschewing pop music for a more indie-rock influenced sound. On the title track, jangly acoustic guitars, muted horns and rich, spectral vocals make an almost cinematic sound. “No Rest for the Wicked” takes a catchy, tinkling piano melody and Li’s mellow soprano, throwing them into a big, percussive chorus. And the dark, quiet “Gunshot,” a track about the self-loathing one can feel in the aftermath of a failed relationship, combines pensive percussion and layered vocals, using a chorus with melodic, ringing bassy keys that rumble at a satisfyingly low register to make something that almost resembles an upbeat pop song.
While some tracks on I Never Learn are unremarkable (like the lightweights “Just Like a Dream” or “Silverline”), this album seems like a promising transition for Lykke Li as she navigates away from the conventions of pop music and focuses on herself as a songwriter. Li may never learn in love, but luckily that doesn’t hold true for her music.