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Lykke Li

Lykke Li has had a busy fall: not only were her vocals featured on U2’s surprise new album, but the Swedish songstress is also making a stop on her current tour at New York City’s historic Radio City Music Hall. The show comes in support of her May-released third album, I Never Learn, her most fully realized, and most heartbreaking, effort. At its core, all of Li’s music has a particular beauty, be it through the pain of her latest album or heard in excellent electro-pop ditties like her breakthrough “Little Bit.”

Sat., Oct. 4, 8 p.m., 2014

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QUEEN OF PAIN

Sweden has provided some of pop’s finest talent, and Lykke Li is no exception. What she has offered us over the course of three LPs are gorgeous, intricate sonic tapestries made all the more compelling by her biting soprano voice. Since the release of her debut single, “Little Bit,” a uniquely minimal love song, Li has demonstrated a malleable sound that appeals to music fans across the board as well as a variety of artists. She’s had that initial single remixed by the likes of Drake and AutoErotique, while some of her other songs have passed through the hands of Tyler, the Creator; Beck; Friendly Fires; A$AP Rocky; and even Glee. Lykke Li brings all the soul on her own at the storied Apollo Theater as she celebrates her latest album, I Never Learn.

Thu., May 15, 8 p.m., 2014

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Sweden’s Niki & the Dove Take Aim at American Success

Sweden’s Niki & the Dove spent a good deal of 2012 becoming one of Europe’s favorite bands. They were nominated for British awards you’ve probably never heard of (BBC Sound), toured the continent with pop acts you’ve also probably never heard of (Hurts), and played major festivals you might, maybe, be familiar with, depending on how much Doctor Who you watch (Reading). The trick now, as it has been for countless acts before them, is: Can they turn European buzz into some good old-fashioned American enthusiasm?

The band’s brand of bouncy, mildly mysterious danceable pop has had numerous tortured genre labels applied to it—”indietronica” being one of the more odious—and been compared to everyone from the Knife to Lykke Li to Robyn. In other words, other Swedish artists. But the basic laziness inherent in those comparisons makes a bit of sense—it’s hard not to see a certain through line of national character in their work. Many of Niki & the Dove’s songs feature an impish, lightly accented female voice crying, yelping, and sighing with a mixture of wonder and ecstasy over complex, engrossing, and energizing electronics. They couldn’t be more Swedish if they came with a tin of fermented herring.

The band started casually in the laid-back music scene of Gothenburg, its two principal members, Malin Dahlström (vocals) and Gustaf Karlöf (keyboards), performing with rotating groups of friends. “There is a playful feel, an experimental attitude to writing music [in Gothenburg],” says Karlöf via Skype about the town that has also nurtured acts such as Jens Lekman, the Knife, Air France, and Little Dragon. “I can sense that in my musician friends. They are not cowards when it comes to making new stuff—they really like to experiment. In Stockholm, people are afraid to do something that sticks out.”

Whimsically, and without much thought for the future, Dahlström and Karlöf decided to write a song together. The resulting track, “DJ, Ease My Mind” (which can be found on their debut, Instinct), features Dahlström’s voice echoing over increasingly insistent beats and thundering drums that hypnotize the listener even as they drive forward. It sticks out. “We were quite happy with the result,” Karlöf says. They decided to write another. “Four or five songs later, we thought, ‘Maybe we have a band?'”

They retain some of that initial experimentation in their live shows, improvising around the beginning and endings of songs, which Karlöf says they often don’t have planned in advance. No set list. Live, the band expands or contracts as economics allow. Dahlström, whose day job is composing music for massive Swedish theater productions, often likes to incorporate a choir and dancers into live shows on their home turf. But they often travel as a two-piece, and whether their show features two or 10 onstage, there’s a spirit of experimentation in the music, which holds true to Dahlström’s stated band mission: “It’s fun to do things with your friends.”

“The sound of Niki & the Dove, I wish for it to be dynamic,” Dahlström says. “The thing we’re working on now is hopefully something different from what you heard on Instinct. One should always try to be in a sort of dynamic state, that we don’t get stuck in something. So I hope Gustaf [and I] can explore and transform the group.”

Niki & the Dove perform at the Bowery Ballroom on January 12.

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DARK VISIONS

Last year was an unusually strong one for eccentric electro-pop ladies like Lykke Li and Zola Jesus, and with plenty of early buzz around Grimes and Charli XCX, 2012 looks as if it might prove equally fruitful. The musical alias of Montreal-based Claire Boucher, Grimes hits the Mercury Lounge tonight for two sold-out shows (one early, another late) in support of Visions, which came out last month on 4AD. The album, Grimes’ third, is plenty weird, but in songs like “Oblivion” and “Vowels = Space and Time” she also reveals a sense of heightened songcraft that redeems many of her precious vocal mannerisms

Thu., March 22, 8:30 & 11:30 p.m., 2012

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DARK GLITTER

Next week, the South by Southwest music conference in Austin will propel a handful of young acts to next-big-thing status, and one safe bet for ascension is London-based pop singer Charli XCX, who plays her first New York show tonight as part of Neon Gold’s New Shapes party. Something like a junior-varsity Lykke Li, Charli XCX doles out gloomily sensual electro-pop ditties with titles like “Stay Away” and “Nuclear Seasons”; the music feels destined for adoption by people who make a living packaging glamour. With a handful of other Austin-bound buzz bands, including Sweden’s Niki & the Dove and local synth-rock dudes Ghost Beach.

Sat., March 10, 8 p.m., 2012

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Lykke Li

The Swedish songstress is nearing the end of a tour in support of this year’s gloomy-but-aggressive Wounded Rhymes, on which Lykke Li’s gutsy goth-soul vocals make you pity her less than you do the fool who broke her heart. Her current show is a stylish study in alluring opacity. With First Aid Kit, fellow Swedes who do a lovely sibling-folk thing.

Thu., Nov. 17, 8 p.m., 2011

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Lykke Li

The Swedish songstress goes gloomy on this year’s Wounded Rhymes, but the surprisingly aggressive result is far from a case of indie-twerp melancholia. Indeed, in tunes such as “Unrequited Love” and “Sadness is a Blessing,” Lykke Li’s gutsy goth-soul vocals make you pity her less than you do the fool who broke her heart. The singer’s current live show is a study in alluring opacity. With Grimes.

Tue., May 17, 9 p.m., 2011

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Lykke Li

Tonight, young, soulful Swedish indie-pop singer Lykke Li performs her only U.S. show of the year. In her time off, she’s released a song on a Twilight soundtrack, posed for Levi’s jeans, and released the single from next year’s Wounded Rhymes, which has the chorus, “I’m your prostitute/You’re gonn’ get some.” Needless to say, she’s become a different woman since her 2008 debut, Youth Novels, which bore the lyric “I’m too proud for love” on her breakthrough song, “Little Bit.” Judging from the bongos, ’60s production, and, of course, the lyrics of “Get Some,” the difference between being 22 and 24 is a good one.

Wed., Dec. 1, 8 p.m., 2010

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SWEDEN STRIKES BACK

Swedish singer/songwriter/contortionist Lykke Li is unfairly maligned these days as a sort of Lady Gaga knock-off, as if her idiosyncratic 2008 electro debut Youth Novels was merely The Fame Monster in chrysalis. The physical resemblance is striking—we’ll allow that much—but Li is fully her own creation, a shrewd dance-pop alchemist who sells her gothic synths with fetishistic abandon. Newly released single “Get Some” boasts dense jungle drums and a Barbarella-themed music video; if this were a contest between dames, Li’s bizarrely engrossing yelps would prove the clear victor.

Wed., Dec. 1, 8 p.m., 2010

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Lykke Li+Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Lykke Li has said she doesn’t like dance music—at an October Bowery Ballroom gig, she covered Ray Charles, Vampire Weekend, and A Tribe Called Quest. Yet now, the pouty indie-pop singer, whose undeniably danceable music is mainstream-pop in her native Sweden, has risers for her to climb onstage and show off her latest moves. Maybe it’s this quirky conflict of ideals that pushes her to be such a captivating show-woman. Not to be missed are the similarly ambivalent Sunday night openers (and Li’s countrymen) Wildbirds & Peacedrums, a husband-and-wife duo who alternate between contemplative, percussion-heavy indie rock and convulsive tribal-soul outbursts.

Tue., Feb. 3, 9 p.m., 2009