On her full-length debut, Lykke Li sounds like she's been waiting to refashion the classical torch song her whole life. Youth Novels is all teasing and heartbreak, with production (from Peter Bjorn & John's Bjorn Yttling) that plays on empty spaces as much as well-chosen backing. Li's voice is spacier and breathier than her forebears': Her whisper floats in the upper registers, refusing virtuosity. She's lewder, too: The first single, "Little Bit," has her promising "for you I keep my legs apart," though the rhyme brings her back to a familiar image, a "tainted heart." Her suggestive instrumentation drives the songs home with minimal resources: "Little Bit" lives up to its name, using little more than a bassline and a time-keeping percussive section for the verses. It's a template of sparseness more or less followed throughout. Li wants to make an album, not just a series of future singles, which leads to ill-advised connective tissue: A spoken-word intro and "This Trumpet In My Head," a moody trumpet solo and acoustic guitar, are hardly as haunting as intended. Mostly, though, Li adeptly straddles the line between instant gratification and minimalist smarts.
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