Minimalism, percussive focus, and crooning vocal prowess all find a home on Youth Novels, fourteen chapters of nomadic chanting, with a Swedish heart. Newcomer, globetrotter, and New York City poseur Lykke Li once masqueraded the big apple karaoke dives as a Swedish superstar (she was not). Her debut shows serious swagger... so much so, she may no longer need such a mask.
Texturally, it's not singer/songwriter, it's minimalist sing-along melancholy. Mentor/producer Bjorn Yttling (of Peter and John fame) provides a framework of pop/soul aesthetic while allowing Li the freedom to do absolutely nothing texturally. The result is like a deconstructed bowl of cereal... you get the milk, the crunch, the sugary sweetness, all one at a time. For some, it is awkward or misappropriated. For the more progressive songster, it's exciting and fresh in its backwards approach and lack of layers.
I think the hook is the most important recurring element of Youth Novels. Simple single instrumental riffs and pounding drum heads always give way to Li's ability to deliver a one liner like it's the only part of the song that matters, over a Greek-chorus of background noise. "Breaking it Up" stands out in that it follows Li's formula perfectly, establishing a three chord progression, chorus chant, and Li's lyrics dubbed on top to the maximum effect. Melodically, the song doesn't go anywhere or progress in anyway, however, even in minimalist tendency Li knows how to bring elements in and out for the illusion of development. This style, in a nutshell, is the foundation for the entire album; seductive without insistence.
It's ironic that minimalism gives way to use of such a wide array of instruments (from flutes to a theremin), even if only one by one. Li always sounds subdued, even on tracks meant to be danced to ("Dance, Dance, Dance" anyone?). Mellow is one of her more charming qualities, taking the soul/electro flow of her music and separating it from more funk/drug influenced numbers like Amy Winehouse. Instead, even up-tempo numbers seem glossed over and starry eyed, but it's part of Li's charm. The album, simply put, is like a summer day and a glass of lemonade; Relaxing, warm, refreshing, and at times, a pleasing amount of tart. -joe puglisi.