The third album from Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li slipped under some radar screens last year.
But for all that, it’s worth a listen and a mention. I Never Learn is Li’s most focused and streamlined recording to date.
At just over 30 minutes in length, it’s brief as well. Time is not an issue when all the songs are strong. The theme is coherent and there’s no filler. Who needs hours-plus long recordings when half the music sucks?
Li gets right to the point and stays there. The subject deals with loneliness and break up and the singer sounds like she’s perpetually singing at sundown. Her voice is cloaked in reverb, similar to the sound favoured by Lana Del Ray but Li’s voice is brighter and less lurid than Del Ray’s.
I Never Learn is full of melodramatic power ballads but there’s no cheesy clichés, fake hair blown by fans or spandex. There’s a sense of expressionism and devotion to mood that gives the songs weight and Li’s appreciation of presentation trims any fat from the tunes.
The album is shot through with a Nordic sensibility and emotional honesty. There’s a sense of the ethereal and the earthy in this music.
Li’s arrangements recall Leonard Cohen, and Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone recalls a happier, late-‘60s female version of the poet. Gunshot is reminiscent of Madonna’s Like a Prayer. Heart of Steel is a remarkable track – moody background music with a wistful vocal and a chorus that has “single” written all over it, but is unlikely.
I Never Learn is a brief, compelling collection of songs that are stately, but open and raw. It’s an evocative recording with clouds of atmosphere and wintry landscapes. There is also uplift and light. Li’s songs are finely crafted, with all the right images and notes.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician based in Vernon. He reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.