Happy To You
(Universal Republic Records)
Miike Snow’s debut was one of the nice surprises of 2009, a lo-fi, synth-pop charmer from high-end producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (aka Bloodshy & Avant) and singer Andrew Wyatt. The song “Animal” from that record remains an exhilarating pop moment, combining suprisingly powerful lyrics about the limits of conformity (“I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still an animal”) with super-catchy hooks. Other standout tracks like “Burial” and “Silvia” pull off the same neat trick, balancing slick arpeggiated synths with noisy, clattering piano and a cheap-sounding, live drum kit.
On their new full-length, Happy To You, much of the homemade quality that flavored their debut is gone. The drums and piano are still there, but feature a new spit-shine. Standout tracks here are “The Wave,” a head-nodder with apocalyptic undertones and “Devil’s Work,” a mysterious travelogue with prog-rock leanings. There’s a sense of doom creeping through most of Wyatt’s blank verse lyrics. On balance, the songs lean more towards the intellectual than the emotional. The exception is the lovely “God Help This Divorce,” which borrows heavily from Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.” The regret is palpable here as he wanders the streets eyeing “So many beautiful people who don’t need me.”
There’s a simplicity to Wyatt’s melodies that, on initial listen, can feel unambitious or unfinished. But some of these tunes sneak up on you, like the unexpected, soaring pop chorus of “Archipelago,” or the propulsive and downright creepy “Black Tin Box,” which features Lykke Li.
Some of the beats and grooves sound a little less than fresh this time around, particularly the use of bombastic, percussive house synth hits. Songs like “Pretender” recall Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” and that’s not a good thing, unless A Night at the Roxbury is somehow a secret source of inspiration for Karlsson and Winnberg.
As sophomore efforts go, Happy To You is a good one, not a great one, never quite reaching the heights of their debut, but not falling so far behind that there’s no coming back.