Happy To You - DOWNTOWN/UNIVERSAL
FILTER Grade: 86%
By Loren Auda Poin on March 27, 2012
Where Miike Snow’s self-titled debut sometimes sounded like the minor side project of a major pop production team, Happy To You, its latest release, is a strange new kind of achievement. It’s amazing that Happy To You’s first track, “Enter the Joker’s Lair,” has emerged from the same band that gave us Miike Snow—resplendent with aquatic, pingy synth effects, beautiful and relaxed. It appears as if Miike Snow has acknowledged certain permissions granted by weirdo pop auteurs of the past that, with sufficient talent and sonically adventurous vision, you can do anything. Miike Snow clearly has both qualities at its fingertips.
“Enter the Joker’s Lair” exhibits the warm, psyched-out African highlife waterscape that Vampire Weekend also revels in, yet these comparisons (like most in music) are superficial, and stand only as incidental connections rather than charges of unoriginality. Anyhow, the slightly more subdued aura of this record evinces not boredom or plagiarism but comfort and confidence, both of which shine through in the songs themselves.
As with its debut, the band’s production skills and musicianship are top-shelf. The songs sound perfect, the elements balanced yet bright, psychedelic yet not grating nor totally overwhelming. Indeed, the patina of some modern groups is on these songs, but we also hear the double-tracked influence of Phil Collins or even John Lennon in the album’s engineering as well, an always-welcome trope, especially when wielded with as much skill and poise as we hear here.
The production sounds so rich it’s no wonder two members of this trio created one of the dirtiest and yet somehow brightest gems of the pop diadem, Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” This quality first emerges on the track “Devil’s Work,” with deliciously synthesized bass tones offset by sparkling notes in high registers and impressively tasteful trumpet flourishes. Singer Andrew Wyatt clearly has something to say here, crooning, “You don’t need to sell your shirt / To do the devil’s work.” These songs, and “Devil’s Work” in particular, move so fluidly and energetically that they’re difficult to ignore.
On “Vase,” whirring percussion, lilting lyrics and overdriven hand claps push forward into the somber, angelic, irregular “God Help This Divorce.” Here, tones and noises groan and rear in the background, like jets taking off in the distance. A band once known for club jams takes a running leap into the world of keen introspection, flying dramatically through the air, sticking the landing and offering this song as the evidence: “Taking my tea in silence / Telling strange jokes to myself / God help this divorce.”
The song “Pretender,” too, seems to delve into revolutions more personal than global. “I didn’t want to wake up, but then I felt your touch / Now I notice that I drink too much / And the turning of the universe,” cries Wyatt, bridging the individual experience to the album’s grand, tempestuous scheme.
Album-closer “Paddling Out” gets the groove going once again—a kind of last hurrah, a celebration of the adventure to come, or perhaps just a stone-cold dance jam as the credits roll. Then the song, and the album, ends on a muted stutter and the whole strange experience snaps shut like waking from a dream.
The Top 40 sound that Miike Snow seemed to garner so gleefully on its debut is all but gone on Happy To You, replaced by an equally gleeful desire for experimentation that has as a foot in the works of past giants of idiosyncratic pop like George Michael and Paul Simon, all the while never neglecting the pioneering of current electronic meisters like Joker, Zomby and Flying Lotus.
Certainly the aural experimentation and freedom of popular bands (Animal Collective also comes to mind here) has spiked in the past decade, and bands like Miike Snow can now reap those rewards and let their creativity flourish as they ride a great wave that never seems to want to crest—and all to our benefit and my own personal joy as a listener.
There is something uncharted about these songs—clearly something significant has happened between the band’s debut and sophomore releases. In fact, we have it direct from one of the band’s masterminds, Pontus Winnberg, that “before this album, we were an idea. This time we are a band.” This is evident at every turn on Happy To You, imbued as it is with a new coherence, grandiosity and ambition that totally overshadows the quite well-developed debut album. Happy clearly benefits from the band’s epic concept of creating the soundtrack to “the birth of a new race and world,” as Winnberg puts it—one that may ring especially true in this year of Mayan prophecy and grand consequence. Listening to this record, one is forced to wonder at the possibilities that lie ahead.