Review Summary: Another distinctive electro offering that proves their debut was not a fluke.
It’s not exactly Sonny Moore leaving post-hardcore to twiddle knobs and worship at the altar of day-glo paint and Ecstasy as Skrillex, but the ease with which Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg have transitioned from crafting Top 40 epics as Bloodshy & Avant (see: Britney Spears – “Toxic”) to playing 260 shows and landing festival headlining slots as live band Miike Snow is nearly as impressive, not to mention eminently more listenable. Their self-titled debut was an unassuming collection of electro pop gems that rocketed to indie stardom on the backs of singles like “Animal” and “Black and Blue.” It was the kind of genre fusion Karlsson and Winnberg have been doing for years, a dynamic blend of dance, house and indie music, but the addition of versatile vocalist Andrew Wyatt and the emphasis on live instruments made Miike Snow that rarest of specimens: a fully-formed band right out the gate, with a cutting-edge electro album that sounded fresh and vital rather than a recycled MGMT-lite.
Happy to You
, happily enough, is not a mere retread of Miike Snow
, which wouldn’t have been surprising given the band’s grueling touring schedule and the fact that, well, a song like “Animal” is good for some serious airplay. Their signature sound is still electronic, marrying the pop sensibilities of Vampire Weekend with the feverish beats of Passion Pit and the grimier atmosphere of the clubs Karlsson and Winnberg have long been accustomed to. While Karlsson and Winnberg and their beatmaking savvy remain the backbone, Happy to You
reveals itself as more of a diverse record than its predecessor. Things are much more textured, the trio clearly reveling in the live sound that they had perfected on the road rather than grounding themselves firmly in the electronics of their debut. The melodies seem largely more fleshed out, given extra weight by the fuller sounds the band more often than not embrace. “Devil’s Work” highlights the differences between the two records: in its reverb-heavy piano vamp, haunting tonal shifts and Wyatt’s ghostly vocals, it’s reminiscent of what made Miike Snow
tracks like “Silvia” so successful; yet Wyatt’s voice in the chorus is awash not in synths but in lush strings and a swelling brass melody. It’s the natural link between their debut and this record, the precursor to the almost twee organ and martial drum rolls on the psychedelic “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)” and the sparkling indie pop of “Archipelago,” where a whistle solo and a sunnily propulsive chorus reminiscent of the Shins belie Wyatt’s typically subversive lyrics.
First single “Paddling Out” is most likely to captivate fans of “Animal,” with an insistent, syncopated beat and a similar contrast between the song’s infectious tone and melancholy lyrics (“there’s someone here who laughs too hard at everything” begins the chorus), but for all the band’s efforts, there is nothing here that approaches the immediacy of Miike Snow
. It’s a necessary trade-off, perhaps, as Happy to You
is much more of a proper album, to be listened to as an entire whole, than Miike Snow
ever was. It’s an up-and-down ride, and while there is not really a “bad” song, per se, on here (I find it hard to believe pop professionals like Karlsson and Winnberg could even write a bunk hook), there isn’t a gripping, defining standout like “Silvia.” Centerpiece “God Help This Divorce” comes the closest, its dreamy, Revolver
-esque textures warping a straightforward (yet decidedly dark) ballad into a kaleidoscopic display of the band’s studio prowess, and it’s notable too in that it is easily the furthest of all the songs here from their earlier work.
That decision to expand their sound and focus more on the links between where they were and where they want to go is the true treat of Happy to You
. It’s evident in the percolating, stygian synths of “Black Tin Box,” which uses Lykke Li’s throaty voice to great effect in creating a threatening, foreboding mood, or in the sparse drums and surging bursts of noise on the twitchy “Vase.” And where a song like “Paddling Out” or “Devil’s Work” likely would have made much more sense as an opener, “Enter The Joker’s Lair,” with its skittish drums, see-sawing electronics, and general preference for skirting around its melody with bleeps and bloops rather than driving it home, stands out as the band’s clear mission statement for the album – don’t be afraid to shake things up. Happy to You
is not as arresting as Miike Snow
, nor will it likely make as much of an immediate impact. But for a genre well versed in sophomore stagnation, Miike Snow’s willingness to test their boundaries is a pleasant surprise.