Review Summary: An intelligent pop record that’s immediately fetching and stacked with hooks, yet ultimately reveals itself as the best kind of pop: the kind with layers.
Maybe they’ve been putting something in the water these past few decades, but it seems like ever since ABBA took over the world in the ‘70s Sweden has been a hotbed of wildly addictive pop music, no more so than in this new millennium. From the Cardigans, Robyn, and the Concretes, to Peter Bjorn & John, the Hives, the Shout Out Louds and now production “supergroup” Miike Snow, Sweden’s been assaulting the rest of the world’s charts in their own charming way for years. A little late to the coming-out party but still retaining all the trademarks of Swedish indie pop, Miike Snow combines the songwriting and production talents of Bloodshy & Avant (Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg) with American producer and lead singer Andrew Wyatt. With such an impressive hit-making resumé behind them, it should come as little surprise that Miike Snow is the kind of brain-imprinting electro that gets in your head and refuses to go away.
Given Bloodshy & Avant’s history, working with acts like Britney Spears, Madonna, and Kylie Minogue, the slick beats and sparkling production are par for the course – rather, it’s when the duo turn their talents in the direction of elegantly simple indie ditties that Miike Snow reveals itself as more of a legitimate musical experimentation rather than a producers’ vanity project. Single “Animal” sounds like a mix between Vampire Weekend’s staccato synths and MGMT’s layered electronica, bouncing along a deceptively catchy progression to a jangly chorus that hits immediate pop pay dirt. Wyatt’s chameleonic vocals are a highlight from the beginning, imbuing lyrics like “but I’m still trying to make my mind up, am I free or am I tied up"” with unassuming cheeriness. Even on a track like the morbid “Burial,” Wyatt’s expressive vocals never seem to betray a song’s emotion, transforming a piece of immediately accessible pop into a double-sided coin once you take a look at the lyric sheet.
It’s a trick the group pulls of masterfully throughout the record. Songs like the falsetto four-on-the-floor thump of “A Horse Is Not A Home” and the gorgeously grimy techno whirl of “Black & Blue” nail the juxtaposition between Wyatt’s moody lyrics and the irrepressible production. Indeed, much of Miike Snow strikes at the core of what makes pop music great: the ability to tell stories of melancholy and grief while making it sound as joyous and palatable as the most common love song.
For all of Miike Snow’s clear mission to make light, agreeable electro pop, there are more than enough songs that demand closer attention. The most obvious is the six-and-a-half-minute-long haunting ballad “Silvia,” where swirling pools of atmospheric synths, bubbling bass, galloping drums, and Wyatt’s echoing vocals paint a picture of palpable longing. It’s the kind of climactic tune that makes everything after it seem lesser (something not helped by its odd placement as the 3rd song on the album), the undeniable centerpiece of a smart, effective pop record. It’s a testament to the group’s consistency that they follow it up with the exuberant “Song for No One,” with its trebly guitar motif and anthemic chorus, and the aforementioned piano/electronica combo “Black & Blue.”
The second half of the album confines itself more to standard electronica-pop than the fusion of styles in the beginning of the record, and as such suffers from an occasional feeling of “sameness” and songs that never really achieve the kind of affirming lift-off their earlier songs hit with ease. “Cult Logic” and “In Search Of” do have some hard-nosed beats in them, but Wyatt’s falsetto and the song’s contrived faux-disco chorus undo “Cult”, while “In Search Of” comes off as no different from the product of dozens of synth-blaring DJs at any given rave. “Sans Soleil,” on the other hand, takes the slower route to little effect, meandering about a gurgling electro rhythm and indistinct piano chords and leaving no lasting impression.
But Miike Snow finishes strong, particularly the threatening Spoon-esque “Plastic Jungle,” which drenches itself in reverb and shotgun drum blasts, and the tender piano closer “Faker.” Wyatt does his best Beatles croon while the harmonies gently pile up, and the driving piano melody and shimmery synths weave a beautiful lullaby. The song stops on a dime and Miike Snow close the album while in top form, fitting for a trio of men who know the pulse of a pop song as if it was their own and, better yet, know how to resolve all that came before without a hitch. Miike Snow accomplishes everything it sets out to do, creating an intelligent pop record that’s immediately fetching and stacked with hooks, yet ultimately reveals itself as the best kind of pop: the kind with layers.