Miike Snow is, in fact, not a man, but a band. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of him, he does that song ‘Animal,'” friends have said in the past, but not many understand that the band is, in fact, a they, not a he. The band, composed of Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winberg, and Andrew Wyatt, are former producers who won a Grammy for their work on Britney Spears’ pre-breakdown “Toxic.” When the producers decided to forge their own musical career in 2007, their self-titled debut won fans and critics over with poppy sounds that lead listeners through fearlessly introspective corridors of sound. Where other Top-40 sounding songs might zig, Miike Snow’s music almost always zags, a truth that remains startlingly accurate on the group’s new album, Happy to You.
Whereas Miike Snow explored the hidden disparities of pop music through the use of the medium itself, Happy veers into trippy, experimentally expansive territory. Songs like “Black Tin Box,” a duet with the waifish Lykke Li, bypass any illusions in favor of aesthetically bleak melodies that drip into glum little puddles, as lyrics like “Take me down the hillside / Show me where they used to play” gurgle foggily in the foreground. Did you see how experimental I got while writing that sentence? Take that, ramp it up significantly, and you won’t even begin to touch how delightfully wacky Miike Snow gets on this album.
On the early-’90s-inspired “Pretender,” the band sings of a thorny breakup with achingly beautiful descriptions that balladeers only wish they could touch. “I didn’t wanna break up / But then I felt your touch / Now I notice that I dream too much” Wyatt sings, somewhat nasally, atop a pounding piano anthem that sounds epically, tunefully awesome. Similarly, a percussive pound introduces “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will),” a robust and ceaseless song that throbs with inventiveness. Glockenspiels and whistles complete the synth-orchestra, turning the song into a duet where neither singer nor instruments overpower the other. Quietly epic, the song is harmonious in the most exciting way.
Happy to You is certainly a less frenetic album than Miike Snow. Tracks like “The Wave,” “Vase,” and “God Save This Divorce” all fall neatly in line with each other. A buzzy little group, the anti-hits are worth listening to, but reek ever so slightly of defiance against a record label asking for a smash. “Divorce” mustn’t be ignored, however much it resists its listeners with perplexing timing choices and soft, fluttering pitter-patters of synthesized whispers.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of vivacity to be found at the band’s pity party of a second album. The disc’s standout track, “Paddling Out,” works on speckled levels-like Happy to You‘s lead single “Devil’s Work,” it sounds party-ready, a syncopated piano waltzing hand in hand with a drum machine working overtime to keep the track moving. On the other hand, the lyrics tell a different story, a wild tale of paranoia and solitude that offers a very personal glance at the songwriter’s inner psyche.
It’s hard to know, really, whether or not Miike Snow wants to be taken seriously. In the band’s live shows, the first act is always performed by band members in white masks, perhaps themselves an indictment of the often faceless nature of popular music in the 21st century. One must also take into account seemingly nonsensical lyrics like “For call the space between the crave / That sound of road to me too.” Perhaps almost entirely abandoning the candy-coated shell that delivered such a swift kick to radio-ready hits was just the result of a maturing group, but it’s magnificent to discover that the obviously opinionated band can still deliver an album with messages just as striking.