Dancing to life's desire lines with Lykke Li

Love & poison
By LUKE O'NEIL  |  May 20, 2011

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LOWER DEPTHS “It’s not that I’m not happy,” says Lykke Li, “it’s just that when I’m happy, I’m usually busy being happy and not too keen to write.” 

You already love Lykke Li. You may not know that you do, exactly. You may not know what she does (snaps hearts in half with her voice), or where she's from (Sweden), or even how to pronounce her name (uh . . . ?), but you've definitely heard the two singles off her sophomore record, Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic). One being "Get Some," with its half-threatening, half-boner-inducing lyric "Like a shotgun needs an outcome/I'm your prostitute/You gon' get some." That ubiquitous indie hit isn't even the best song on the album. Follow-up single "I Follow Rivers" must have wormed its way into your brainpan by now like a slithering romance virus.

"So why are your songs so good?", I ask Li via email. "I can't answer that question," says Li, who plays a WFNX "Acoustic Session" at the MFA on Friday before her show at the House of Blues. "But a wild guess is that it brings out repressed feelings, and in the end we all just want to dance, right?"

The repressed angle is exactly right. She pulls emotions from the dark depths, like a lovelorn ice-fisherman trawling beneath the frozen surface of despair. The dance part is true too. Both songs have been remixed by the likes of Beck, Mike D, and Tyler the Creator (though if you dance to Tyler's horror rap "Rivers," you are on some other shit).

"I don't seek it at all, as my hope is that I can deliver the best version of my own songs," she says of all the cut-up jobs. "So a lot of the times, I feel a bit violated when somebody slams a house beat on top of me. But with that said, I did very much enjoy Tyler's version, as it brought something new to the table."

Sadness is what she brings to the table, as on the hangdog romance "Sadness Is a Blessing."

"Sadness is like a good friend of mine," she says. "I have gotten to know it pretty well throughout the years, and I usually write about what I know and feel, so I guess it is easy and natural for me. It's not that I'm not happy, it's just that when I'm happy, I'm usually busy being happy and not too keen to write."

There's two sides to the pain here, though. The type she feels, and the type she seems keen to inflict. Violence and love go together.

"There is definitely a thin line between pain and pleasure. I think heartbreak can be like a fuel, as it is such an unpleasant state to be in. I had to fight my way out of there, so I definitely might have acted somewhat violent in the writing process, and that is what shines through in the songs, as well."

That way of thinking aligns with the classic '60s-girl-group heartbreak pop that pulses through the record. There was a darker edge to the way those groups used to sing about love. It seemed more life-and-death back then, before pop stars started singing about Facebook hand jobs and sniffing bath salts in the club or whatever.

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