Sweden: the land of smorgasbords, easy-to-assemble furniture, and as of late, the world’s richest reserve of irrefutable pop genius. The Swedes have proven good for much more than a Mamma Mia punchline in recent years, successfully shirking any and all ABBA jokes as they’ve grown to master just about every facet of contemporary pop music since the mid-’90s, from Karin and Olaf Dreijer’s macabre brand of electro as The Knife and Fever Ray to Robyn’s knack for churning out impossibly infectious dance numbers to Max Martin’s ever-growing monopoly of Top 40 radio (he’s co-written/produced numerous top 10 hits for Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and T.I., among many others).
About as responsible as Martin for American pop music’s ongoing extrication to Sweden is the production duo of Bloodshy and Avant, real names Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, who’ve been the brains behind hits by Britney Spears (most notably on “Toxic” and “Piece of Me”), Madonna, and Kylie Minogue. As two-thirds of Miike Snow (along with vocalist/producer Andrew Wyatt), the duo took an unlikely– though decidedly effective– approach on their eponymous first outing, forgoing the sort of huge, feature-laden debut that their illustrious resumé might have suggested for an effort that wove a surprisingly diverse sonic palette and distinctly Scandinavian sense of melancholy in with crafty production that won the pair millions of listeners around the world. A handful of well-received sets at Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Glastonbury ’10, a tireless touring schedule (no less than 250[!] shows over a span of two years), and the chart success of the album’s lead single, “Animal”, helped make Miike Snow one of the breakout successes of 2009.
In about every way that it possibly could, Miike Snow’s second album, Happy to You, improves on its predecessor, building considerably on their already expansive sound, while honing said sound into an effort that’s much more nuanced and cohesive, much more a proper album than Miike Snow’s rather disparate, though very enjoyable, collection of songs. “Enter the Joker’s Lair” kicks things off on a playful note, all skittering percussion and pitch-bent analog synth bliss over Andrew Wyatt’s wistful coo. Nearly all of the songs here are far less immediate than anything on Miike Snow, perhaps due in part to the amount of time on the road they had to develop them. The glistening psychedelia of ”God Help This Divorce” and “Devil’s Work” – whose resonant piano line and moody synth stabs make for one of the album’s finest tracks – showcase this especially well, as both crest majestically by song’s end with a newfound patience that’s a recurring theme on the record.
Happy to You is a markedly lighthearted affair for most of its 40-minute length; even at its gloomier moments, like the glistening “…Divorce” or the Lykke Li-featuring “Black Tin Box”, Miike Snow manage to keep things buoyant with a catchy hook here and a memorable earworm of a synth line there. The latter is easily one of the most memorable tracks on Happy to You, with Li’s dramatic guest vocal proving a perfect fit for the group’s most divergent outing to date, its starkly minimal production and almost-Calypso melody nodding to the contemporary stylings of Jamie xx.
What’s most notable about the album is the glaring absence of a monolithic, earth-rending banger from a team of guys who’ve made a career of cranking them out by the truckload. While it’s still brimming with more indelible hooks and infectious dance grooves than most acts manage to write over the course of several albums, Happy to You is defined by its willful introversion, the sort of rare pop record that acts completely on its own terms. While Karlsson and Winnberg continue to assert themselves as two of the most accomplished producers in contemporary music, Happy to You does well to prove they’re just as good on the other side of the mixing console, showcasing the furthest extents of their own considerable talents for the second straight album.
Essential Tracks: “Black Tin Box”, “Pretender”, and “God Help This Divorce”