Whenever pop music enters a conversation, there is generally an immediate stigma and a presumptuous attitude that pinpoints the genre as a plague upon all of the other genres of music. This attitude comes primarily from the pop music we know today, the genre that formed in the mid-to-late ‘90s, where artists such as Britney Spears and ‘N Sync were dominating the charts and airwaves. Modern pop music carries a similar stigma, where artists such as Katy Perry and LMFAO are governing the space between those who don’t listen to music at all and those who find themselves on a heightened plateau of musical intelligence. To be blunt, the genre has been given a bad reputation, often deservedly so, and Top 40 radio is a major benefactor in this.
While there are many who continue to take advantage of the pop genre and the masses that cater to its mainstream appeal, there are those who have seen it as a rather unique opportunity. Amidst a genre that many deem crap is a Swedish production duo that has taken a unique approach to the pop genre. Enter Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, better known by their stage name Bloodshy and Avant, are well versed in the world of pop, having crafted numerous hits for Britney Spears (“Toxic” and “Piece of Me”), Kylie Minogue and Madonna. Along with producer and vocalist Andrew Wyatt, they formed Miike Snow, a musical venture that has successfully honed in on what makes pop music work yet manages to enter an entirely different realm of creative musical thinking.
With their eponymous debut, the Swedish trio captured the catchiness of pop music and combined it with exciting creativity and instrumentation that can only be described as utterly captivating, garnering fans from around the world. That was 2009, and today the band has since toured extensively and performed at some of the biggest festivals around the globe, all on the graces of their self-titled debut. This is where, more often than not, bands find themselves facing a difficult task, the looming inevitability of a sophomore LP. In some cases, bands attempt to build upon what they did well and expand their sound, but this often leaves fans disappointed as it strayed from what made the first album so great. Then there are the situations where a band sticks to closely to what made their debut great, resulting in critics bastardizing them for not developing as a band. There are even cases where bands call it quits after just the one album. Miike Snow, on the other hand, has not succumbed to any of these situations.
In almost every facet of what made Miike Snow’s debut album great, Happy to You does it better, in every way. From start to finish, the album is cohesive, with each song proving to be the perfect companion to whichever song precedes or follows it. Album opener “Enter The Joker’s Lair,” for example, begins in an almost child-like way, with playful synth notes dancing in the background as Andrew Wyatt’s vocals combine effortlessly with energetic percussion. It is the perfect beginning to the album, as it establishes the melancholic yet unforceful tone of the album. It also displays where the strength of the album lies, in its cohesiveness. From beginning of the album until the end, each song plays off of one another beautifully. Whether it is the way “The Wave” leads beautifully into “Devil’s Work” by building intensity through its use of percussion or how “Vase” ramps down throughout all the while moving towards a blissfully melancholic conclusion in order to cater to the entire tone of “God Help This Divorce,” it simply works, and it works fantastically well.
The blissful melancholy evident in “Vase” and “God Help This Divorce” is another aspect of this album that seems to work so well, as Wyatt’s vocals, no matter how dark in their content, are paired with a wonderful array of instrumentation. This instrumentation is a key to Miike Snow’s unique foray into the pop genre, as Bloodshy and Avant combine beautiful piano lines with fantastic percussion and atmospheric synth work and production techniques. “Pretender,” for example, has Wyatt’s vocals carry an exasperated weight and blaring horns signaling the chorus, all the while frantic percussion drives the pace. “Black Tin Box” is perhaps the most impressive example of this album’s strengths, as it immediately establishes a dark tone through its brooding wave synths and drowned out percussion. It stands out in its simplicity, as the focus lies on Wyatt’s vocals before introducing layer upon layer of impressive percussion and increasingly heightened synthesizers. It is Lykke Li’s welcome guest vocals that make this track so captivating, as it introduces a melodramatic sensationalism that is hard to ignore.
Miike Snow have done something entirely unique here, crafting an album where no one track stands out above the rest as absolutely dominant, where the entire 40-minute run time exists as a cohesive piece of work. The beauty of the album lies in this aspect, in its introverted nature. It is only looking inward, at what will make itself work in a cohesive yet exciting and unexpected way. In this regard, it succeeds above and beyond its own expectations. Wyatt, Karlsson and Winnberg have shown their talent as musicians not once, but twice, yet again delivering a well crafted, beautifully performed album. This is Happy to You.
Words by Adrian McCavour