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CMJ Music Marathon 2008 Day 1: Lykke Li

Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

The Swedish siren Lykke Li arrived at CMJ on a wave of anticipation and praise. Her debut album, Youth Novels, was produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, warranting some attention. So her headlining showcase -- emphasis on headlining -- was greeted by throngs of teenage girls eager to sing along with their musical muse. (Fittingly she dedicated her last song “Breaking It Up” to all the girls, and gay men, who had dumped bad boyfriends.)

Though Li’s album -- aside from her voice -- is full of wistful but stripped-down melodies and rhythms, live she was as rhythmic as a Stomp understudy, marching around the stage in ankle boots and trashing an adjacent cymbal during “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Let it Fall”. (She had a drum stick in her hand for the first half of the set.) The music was also noticeably rhythm oriented, with a resounding live drummer. Still, her three band members propped up Li’s innocuous vocals so that they could shine in their doll-like idiosyncrasies. Onstage, however, Li is dominating, showing sass and control, even whipping out a bullhorn at one point into which she sweetly sung for a rotary-speaker type effect.

If anyone questioned whether her album had enough depth or not, this live performance quickly silenced them by showing off her fragility, playfulness, and might all at once. Moreover she ended the night with “Can I Kick It?”, a surprising cover for a Swedish pop starlet, winning over the home crowd.

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