America is always slow to the draw. When it comes to international artists, predominantly those in Europe, we like to hop on the bandwagon and think we’re discovering an artist just breaking out, but most times it’s after said artist has already been handed an award for staying afloat on the top of the radio charts. Swedish indie pop singer-songwriter Lykke Li is one of those who fits that definition, but thankfully she wore off the novelty of bearing an international Product Of sticker to let her music, not her culture, stand as her defining marker.
Let’s not skip over her culture rich background, though.
She may claim Sweden as her title, but the 28-year-old spent several years of her childhood living on a Portuguese mountaintop , swimming in Morocco in the summertime, and relaxing in India during the winters. Living the exotic life is expected when your mother’s a photographer and your father plays in a punk reggae band. As a result, her music picked up the flair of numerous cultures.
Lykke Li’s music draws primarily from indie pop, electronic, and alternative song structures, but she goes beyond synthesizers and tambourines to loop in saxophones, megaphones, and necklaces made of percussive instruments. On her debut album, 2008’s Youth Novels, she stepped up to raise our standards, creating an odd combination of sounds that sounded both whimsical and disjointed like the rattling piano and robotic voices in “I’m Good, I’m Gone.” It didn’t help that the song’s music video featured stuttering twins, stop-motion dancing, and bodybuilders painted in silver. Weird sounds and weird images leave a lasting mark. For Lykke Li, that was the goal.
Meanwhile, England electronic trio Friendly Fires had just dropped their self-titled debut a month after Lykke Li. Riding on the success of their single “Paris” from 2007, the indietronica dance rockers had all eyes on them to put out a full-length that captured their already admired live performances and festival sets. Thankfully, it did. Their debut earned them a Mercury Music Prize nomination, numerous Breakthrough Artist nods, and their very own certified double gold album to hang on their wall.
Friendly Fires was a jaw-dropper ready to break out.
Ed Macfarlane, Jack Savidge, and Edd Gibson first met at age 13 in school. The three got together to cover Green Day songs in a post-hardcore band, but as the years progressed, they decided to start a new band inspired by dance music, shoegaze melodies, and classic pop songwriting. That merging of sounds kept them engaged and focused on drawing the best of the three together.
A few months after Youth Novels dropped, Friendly Fires went into the studio to record their own cover of “I’m Good, I’m Gone” and it surfaced online as a free download. The three were about to leave St. Albans to tour with Lykke Li, serving as the openers for her Youth Novels dates, but were eager to translate their interpretation of the artist before barriers were inevitably broken traveling together. If their cover is any indication of what that tour was like, it’s safe to say it was a brilliant pairing that let fans dance off the weight of their heavy hearts.
The cover starts out with staccato keyboards straight out of The Rapture’s “How Deep Is Your Love,” but soon a shaker lets a thick bass line break the pop mold. Cue the dancing. Friendly Fires take Lykke Li’s melodramatic song and raise a pointer finger to its lips. Everything is hushed. The bright, sticky chorus gets dropped down several notches. Her falsetto chirps are whispered like a lullaby. All the punches and percussive weight of the original is pushed away for trance layering that lets their love for German techno label Kompakt come through clearly. Friendly Fires made “I’m Good, I’m Gone” a sultry dance track to end your evening on the perfect note. Make sure to use it as such.
[Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.]