Miike Snow – Happy to You (2012)

SLIGHT CHANGE OF PACE FOR LIBERATED SWEDES

                  Miike Snow’s atypical formation story is about as peculiar as their name. For a while, I wasn’t even sure if they were to be considered as a real band. My first shock came when I realized that they weren’t a singer songwriter named Miike (or just Mike) Snow, but rather a collection of two Swedish producers and an American lyricist. Their self-titled debut album caught my attention with its undeniably catchy beats and completely unique sound. They definitely had the malleability of a pop band but the composition of experimentalists. While I found their music to be electronic, alternative and, dare I say, at times avant garde, I still found their songs being used on episodes of Gossip Girl and as background fodder in Forever 21.

Happy to You, their oddly titled second LP, came out last week and marks their first release on their newly formed record label, INGRID, founded with other Swedish heavy hitters Peter, Bjorn and John, Lykke Li and Dungen. Serving as their own bosses, you can immediately tell that this time around they have much less commercial responsibilities. The songs aren’t exactly falling into Radiohead or Scott Walker territory, but the melodies seem a little more complex and the music a little more eccentric. The album also has a much more serious tone to it than the halcyon Miike Snow. The songs are busier. They make this evident with the heavy piano usage and the horn sections on “Devil’s Work.” Joined by the agrarian vocals of Andrew Wyatt, this is really when they are at their best. They don’t have the forcefulness of a pop band. They are not trying to be something they are not and the music flows quite naturally. They all work very well together for a truly transcendent experience when listening to them.

The flip side of this is the horrendously odd and seemingly endless “Black Tin Box.” It claims to be featuring Lykke Li (which greatly piqued my interest in the track), but her presence is alarming minor. If you’re going to include Lykke Li, then give her center stage. I couldn’t even tell you where she is on this track. The song marches on for nearly eight minutes with Wyatt’s voice distorted and slowed to the point that I have to read the lyrics to comprehend what he is seeing. It sounds like Satan talking to you through a Darth Vader mask. I encourage experimentation and mixing up what your band has to offer, but this is a “Revolution No.9”-esque flop. The Lykke Lis and the Radiooheads of the world can get away with going off the deep end, but the guys who produced “Toxic” should probably play it a little safer in the future.

The band is obviously making extreme efforts to make themselves more artistic, evident by the string of continuous music videos accompanying the released singles that tell the story of humans abducted by aliens for scientific experiments. I can’t tell if they’re trying to atone for all of the pop music they have given the world for the past two decades or if they’re just trying to have fun while it lasts. The interpretation, as well as whether you prefer this or the original album more, lies with the listener. I don’t think they’re great or even very good by any stretch of the imagination, but I enjoy enough of each of these albums. The first gave me a series of insanely catchy tunes. This one, between adequate tracks like “The Wave” and “No Starry World,” show off some pretty impressive instrumental chops.

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