Album Reviews

Miike Snow – Happy to You

on March 27, 2012, 8:00am
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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”

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5 comments

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BonusWagner
August 5, 2012 at 4:45 am

I don’t agree with cooperdog. I don’t think anything is overly repetitive, not moreso than Silvia or The Rabbit or Animal were on the first album. I agree that this album is more serious and has less infectious dance groves, but I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. Once I had a chance to absorb the whole album, I tend to agree with the reviewer that this album is more cohesive and flowing than the first which now seems disjointed to me. This album does have a few songs like Paddling Out and Devil’s Work which are full of infectious dance groves, and some that are delightfully light, and some that are psychadelic and melancholy. Overall, I like the way the songs play of each other and the album flows. It is a somewhat dark album, but it seems like a natural progression for them, I mean Sylvia was a beautiful fun dancey song from the first album but it was about a man killing his lover. And don’t forget who they are named after. My favorite thing about this album is the thought put into the lyrics, which are complex and deep. My favorites are Archipelago, Pretender and Garden.

Cooperdog11
April 7, 2012 at 9:56 am

“Infectious dance grooves”? Which songs have infectious dance grooves? No, Happy To You is more purposeful, more serious (if Miike Snow can be considered serious) than this band’s first CD. It simply will not be as well received though because of what it isn’t; fun. My 7-year-old jumps up to dance whenever Cult Logic, Animal or Billie Holiday plays. Nothing on Happy To You invokes the same reaction. Except God Help This Divorce, the lyrics are overly repetitive. Same with the drum corps rhythm that appear on too many songs. Lykke Li is wasted on Black Tin Box – she’s barely there! 
This is an odd sophomore effort from this talented bunch, eagerly anticipated by their growing fan-base. Watch the crowd reaction during concerts between their newest and older songs. It’s telling.

Musician
March 27, 2012 at 3:18 pm

You do realise that it’s only because of ABBA that Sweden is now seen as “the world’s richest reserve of irrefutable pop genius”

Ace
March 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm

 no, he explained why – ABBA did their part, but modern songwriters from the area are as much a reason – Max Martin wrote the lion’s share  of the pop hits of the 2000’s. He won ASCAP’s songwriter of the year 4 times.

Ghostface
March 27, 2012 at 9:00 am

Sweden has always been the land of irrefutable pop geniuses. What about Jens Lekman, Tough Alliance, jj?

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