Two thirds of Swedish outfit Miike Snow – namely Bloodshy and Avant (or Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg) – come with such hefty credentials that you can be forgiven for forming preconceptions of their independent work before listening. Saddling up with Britney, Madonna and Kelis amongst others, you would expect a certain level of grandeur when they branched out with their own group. Their 2009 self-titled debut in some way realigned this expectation, but with Happy to You they have completely demarcated themselves from the slick gloss of their production work without leaving behind any of the skill or innovation that made those tracks global best sellers.
The album itself doesn’t readily sound like any great departure. The prominent, sometimes military drumbeats and house–style piano still flow throughout and the electronic echo still spins from Wyatts vocals. The major striking difference is the change in mood from the debut. There are still moments of up-tempo movement here, but they have a darker edge. The debut album had traces of this on ‘Black and Blue’ with its vague domestic discord and their trademark floor-filler ‘Animal’ but overall Happy To You is a more downbeat affair; even the livelier moments have the tone turned down and the lyrical viewpoint turned inwards – which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Happy To You serves as an example of how pop music can be mature and socially aware. The end-of-days saga of ‘The Wave’ is powerful without being self-consciously so. Wyatt manages emotional authenticity in the face of a thundering symphony of drums and piano, his high-pitched vocal breaks making the successive drum beats even more resounding but it never feels overly dramatic.
For the most part the trio get this balance just right each time, combining an inventive fusion of lyrics, percussion and synth to dynamic effect. ‘Garden’ is a prime example of this: coming across like pared back, We Are The Night-era Chemical Brothers, its marriage of crisp vocals to transcendent dance grooves and whirling build marks this a standout on the album.
If they fail, it’s when they slow down. ‘Archipelago’ drops the pace to an unsettling crawl mid-way through the album and the exciting prospect of collaboration with Lykke Li is quickly muddied with ‘Black Tin Box’. Its goth orchestra build leaves the brunt of the seven-plus minutes run time devoid of event and her vocals are barely recognisable behind a wall of over-prodcution. Maybe it’s just a question of tracklisting. Maybe they wouldn’t have been so stalling earlier in the running order as the successive tracks feature some of the albums most up tempo moments but that in itself is relative to how you listen to the LP.
Bloodshy and Avant are obviously talented when it comes to matching styles to artists and creating hits, but with this album and their partnership with Wyatt they are pulling the focus even further away from their production work and onto their merits as a band in their own right. Happy to You is the kind of album that you enjoy, hoping the next is not too far over the horizon.