The first thing you should know about Miike Snow is that it’s not one guy — it’s a band consisting of Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg and American vocalist Andrew Wyatt. The second thing you need to understand is they aren’t afraid to break their backs for their music — after they released their first, self-titled album in 2009, they began touring and recording, only pausing to rest on Christmas Eve and Christmas. The last thing — and this one’s the most important — is this is not a band to be taken too seriously. With a name derived from a Japanese director and a young engineer they had only met twice, the men of Miike Snow are an offbeat team whose latest album is unassumingly fantastic.
Happy to You
The group’s first LP was full of poppy, mostly unmemorable dance tracks, but its hits established a loyal following and were remixed by artists such as Fake Blood, and Peter, Bjorn and John. Not to mention, Miike Snow worked with pop stars such as Madonna and Britney Spears in the past (you can thank or blame Miike Snow for “Toxic”). Now Miike Snow has created a Swedish label called INGRID, which the band used as a foundation to release its second album Happy to You.
With INGRID, Miike Snow has been able to develop its sound into something more than a canvas for club remixes. Wyatt affirmed the band’s independence in an interview with entertainment news website Digital Spy, saying, “We can do what we want now.” To NME, Winnberg explained, “Before this album, we were an idea. This time we were a band.”
Miike Snow’s status as an actual music group rather than an oddly-spelled production team is evidenced from the very start of Happy to You with the song “Enter the Jokers Lair.” The track is an unusual choir of electronic moans that gradually build to a symphonic mix of technological pings and what sounds like robotic chipmunks and hiccupping cyborgs. There’s a bizarre variety of electro gibberish and traditional instrumentation found in this song (and throughout the album) that manages to remain fluid and connected rather than overbearing. “Bavarian #1” is another track that involves an unlikely combination — a military drumbeat with the whistling of what sounds like a troop of sprightly boy scouts, mixed with a crunchy breakdown of synthesizers.
But though the tracks “Enter the Joker’s Lair” and “Bavarian #1” involve enticing musical fusions, that’s far from enough to carry the entire album. While Miike Snow’s first album began with “Animal” — undeniably one of their best tracks — “Enter the Joker’s Lair” is an introduction to a stream of successful tracks. One particularly notable song is the funk-inspired “Paddling Out,” which simultaneously highlights and distorts the voice of Wyatt. While the vocals of the group’s self-titled LP hardly added to the album, Miike Snow has learned how to avoid the predictable corniness of a techno singer. In “The Wave,” the chorus involves the phaser-enhanced voice of Wyatt, which surges in pitch for an entertaining headphones experience.
But Happy to You isn’t quite as cheery as the title suggests. In “Black Tin Box,” Miike Snow brings in fellow INGRID-owner Lykke Li on vocals for a shadowy track with rounds of percussion that mimic firearms, muted steel drums and lyrics about sharp metal and black sheep. The track isn’t assertively creepy, but moodier than most, though when Miike Snow tries too hard to be serious, the album loses some credibility. “Devil’s Work” features a glamorous intro of pounding pianos but includes a pulsing synth interlude that attempts intensity, but just ends up sounding clubby and artificial.
It’s unlikely Miike Snow was trying to make any bold statements with this album. With unspecific lyrics and a web of distortion and interwoven instrumentation over every chorus, Happy to You is an album thick with all sorts of delights. Happy to You might be trying to tell you something amid its fuzzy lyrics and techno intricacies, but you’ll probably be too busy dancing to notice anyway.