Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg, and Andrew Wyatt could have vanished into retirement even prior to Miike Snow’s 2009 self-titled debut and they’d probably still be living comfortably on their stream of songwriter royalties. Having amassed a collection of writing credits that rivals the Midas of pop songwriting, Max Martin, the trio literally live on their ability to craft an immediately infectious hook. The charismatic “Animal” and “Burial” gained traction during the summer of 2009, and gave birth to a new wave of electropop. “I don’t think the right move is to ever stay in one place,” jested Wyatt leading into the release of the group’s third full-length effort, and first since March of 2012. “Maybe everyone else adopted it or got more successful doing a similar thing to us, but you can’t really stop the clock ever. I think you just make things by instinct and you can’t always control where that goes.” Even though new album iii doesn’t always hit those same highs, it’s hard to doubt the instincts that helped propel Bruno Mars and Britney Spears to the top of the charts.
The financial security made possible by those productions have made Miike Snow a vehicle for experimentation. In order to keep moving forward with iii, the collective looked back toward seminal US beatsmith J Dilla. The sample-based songwriting tested Karlsson and Winnberg’s songwriting tactics, forcing the dominant piano undertones of their first two LPs into a fresh direction. Album opener “My Trigger” quickly highlights the soulful currents that keep Wyatt’s vocals afloat across the 11 tracks. Having worked alongside Mark Ronson, he’s already comfortable with these updated funk melodies, as further evidenced on “Heart Is Full”.
That familiarity, along with a number of production tricks, solves one major issue that arose on Happy To You: the frailty of Wyatt’s vocals. During “Back of the Car”, Wyatt’s voice is manipulated by an array of filters, shifting from post-dubstep echo into a mousy squeal. Even if they’re unable to replicate it in the live setting, the group rightly anticipates the audience will be singing along too loudly for anyone to notice. Any human element lost in that electronic distortion is replaced two-fold by the orchestral ensemble that finds room near the end of the single.
Even though most of the album’s themes are common in the pop realm, Wyatt manages a subtle twist. Little more than a foot-stomper about adolescent trust issues, “Genghis Khan” flips the legacy of the violent ruler to comedic effects. Depressed music box tune “I Feel The Weight” is the most enlightened cut on the release: “And it’s only me to blame/ Because I pushed the truth away/ And pretended to be happy/ Tonight I have to say I feel the weight,” Wyatt reflects during the track’s bleak synth wave. Falling almost halfway through the album, “I Feel The Weight” offers a needed perspective on the everyday troubles we ignore for the sake of perceived happiness.
With Karlsson now teaming up with Linus Eklöw to produce pop-flavored EDM as Galantis, those dance party tempos aren’t necessarily reserved for Miike Snow. Aside from “For U” (which features Charli XCX) and its Bloc Party aping intro, almost all of the fist-pumping energy of the debut has receded into a more mature, yet less thrilling persona. Wyatt and co. still want to be there for those special moments, but as they and their fan base age, their festival shenanigans have shifted to more tame cocktail parties.
Essential Tracks: “Genghis Khan”, “I Feel the Weight”, and “Back of the Car”