Album Review: Lykke Li – I Never Learn

If you are at all like me, I Never Learn is not the Lykke Li album you were expecting this year. After the rapturous viral success of “Get Some” from her 2011 sophomore LP, Wounded Rhymes, it is easy to imagine Li taking her sensual, entrancing songwriting to a more pop-centric place. After all, the 28-year old singer has the makings of pop stardom written all over her, being an incredible songwriter and possessing an unearthly haunting beauty. But after experiencing an awful breakup and growing into the person she is now — in the musical context that she finds herself a part of — Li decided to give us I Never Learn, a nine song collection of broken-hearted wanderings that clocks in just over 32 minutes. In I Never Learn, Li shies away from pop accessibility to make a statement all the more poignant. In a modern age where (as she explained to NME in January) every female singer feels the need to affirm her place as a sexually independent, powerful, and commanding pop star, Li takes the painstaking time to tell both the joys and the woes of bearing the pride and pain of a woman. I Never Learn tells the story of a woman in and out of love, reminiscing on what makes relationship so difficult while holding her head high above the water. This album is a more powerful statement than any of us could have imagined, and it reaffirms the scene’s need for Lykke Li’s ongoing presence.

Though “No Rest For The Wicked” may be the record’s lead single, the first thing we heard from I Never Learn was “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” back at the beginning of March. The song is the barest thing on the record, with only Li and her acoustic guitar. The track sounds like it was recorded in a single take, with Li on the verge of tears the whole time. It’s really here that the emotional experience of I Never Learn begins – at the breaking point. “Ever though it hurts, even though it scars, love me when it storms, love me when I fall. Every time it breaks, every time it’s torn, love me like I’m not made of stone.” The chorus is indescribably powerful, and after singing it, there’s a falter in Li’s voice like she’s swallowing a lump in her throat. The pain herein is evident and completely relatable. From this point, returning to the album opener and title track, there is a moment to gain composure and assess the situation from afar. It is here that Li adorns the widow’s garb seen on the cover, a lover apart from love but whole, even alone.

This track finds itself a far cry from the album’s warmest tracks, being “Just Like A Dream” and “Silverline”. While the two go together, the latter displays a relationship that is easy to find Li in — she is the silver lining for every cloud that only her lover can see. She embraces the unique darkness she possesses, while remembering that the darkness does not consume her. Despite its gloominess, I Never Learn maintains a sense of internal balance, despite its mourning in the moment. Though it may be somber, I Never Learn is not without its more infectious numbers. Along with “No Rest For The Wicked”, “Gunshot” is easily repeatable, with its powerful chorus and strong imagery. Li harmonizes with herself to infinity here, and the result will put goosebumps on your skin from head to toe.

But more than anything else, I Never Learn tries to describe the deepest human feelings of aloneness – not really loneliness, because there is no moment where Li cries out for love only for the companionship, but the ongoing struggle to learn how to become one without the help of another. The album’s closer “Sleeping Alone” does this with heart-breaking grace. Li wears her pain like a black dress, not denying it, but not letting it sink beneath the skin. In only thirty minutes, I Never Learn tackles enough human feelings to keep you thinking for a month straight, and every track is worth a couple dozen listens. Altogether, Li has completed her third record with a heavy heart, but the accomplishment in I Never Learn is priceless. Li is a songwriter beyond her years, and the growth we’ve seen between Wounded Rhymes and now is exponential. Though she goes forth with tear-stained cheeks, Li is not a broken woman. Our muse on I Never Learn is complete and ready to share her story for our mutual benefit, and those that take the dive with her will not regret it.

Lykke Li’s I Never Learn is out today on Li’s own LL. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. While Li doesn’t have a proper Seattle date lined up yet, she will be LIVE on KEXP on Thursday, May 22, on 3:00 PM. Afterwards, you can catch her at 7:00pm at evening at Sonic Boom Records for a free in-store and signing. Get there early!

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