Maybe it’s because I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to this album, but I can probably quasi-mouth every word of every track on Happy to You. I can at least start humming the start of the next song in the two second void between tracks. Three years later after their debut, this second full-length from Miike Snow is pretty much just as expected: similarly catchy but with slightly more breadth. It achieves the same goal and still gets stuck in your head at the end of the day, but this time it’s a less monotonous and more inventive in delivery.
It’s as if Miike Snow tapped into the other side of Scandinavian pop, incorporating more orchestral flourishes without turning their back entirely on their well-crafted niche blend of electronica-meets-art-pop. They’re just switching out some synths for piano-led ballads.
There’s still the one-two-step of the straight cut beat, but rather than pounding it to death with the slightly unforgiving bass/snare combo, there’s a lot more dancing around the beat on Happy to You with playful syncopation and quirky emphasis on offbeats. But this is Miike Snow, so there’s obviously still the strong backbeat, only it’s more subdued and less of a main character.
What this album does well is showcase the different faces of the group, including some we haven’t seen before. “Black Tin Box,” which features Lykke Li helping out on a verse, is like a picture of everything Miike Snow, but with the colors inverted. Echoing, mumbled vocals and a subtle beat create a strange dream state that finally underlines Miike Snow’s rather dark lyrics. It’s a stark contrast to other heavier hits like the following “Paddling Out,” a disco-happy single that is everything Miike Snow, with the right colors. Yet, this doesn’t stand out as an anomaly, rather as two tracks that complement each other very well. I just know I get stupid happy at the end of “Black Tin Box” when a drum phrase finally takes center stage after creeping under the entire track for a good four minutes. Along with strings that swell with the muted synths, it’s a great fade into the strong entrance of “Paddling Out.”
Capturing the essence of the album is “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will),” a highlight that employs the whimsical lilt of a piano melody with playful whistling and the omnipresent distorted synth. All of this is held together with a march-like drum intro that serves as the driving force of the piece, instead of the usual bass. “The Wave” also utilizes this march snare as the backbone of the track, which offers a brighter, more refreshing contrast to the subtler bassline.
So Miike Snow is dabbling in other territories. Yet, Happy to You is still very in the thick of that Miike Snow sound. I’d be lying if I said that repetitive tunes didn’t get tiring after a few listens (and I’ve done a couple of “a few listens”). But I’d also be lying if I said that it’s not a great album for when you just want some great material to sing along to in off-key karaoke with an air mic. I can only hope that they go all out next time in exploring other stylistic choices, because I don’t know how a third album of the fairly same spread would fare. Nevertheless, upon first impression, Happy to You is a valiant effort to branch out into newer grounds, which I appreciate.
Stream ‘Happy To You’ in its entirety here.