Miike Snow is one of those bands who could easily become a pop culture phenomenon. They sit among Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, and the new age of stripped-down, minimalist pop, a genre quickly becoming this generation’s most interesting and infectious. Yet with Bloodshy and Avant at the helm, two of pop music’s strongest writers/producers (responsible for hits like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”), Happy to You is quite the enigma. One would assume this duo, along with lead vocalist Andrew Wyatt, would put out a spectacular, booming album with hits from here to the end of the decade. Instead, Happy to You is delightfully unambitious, more memoir than masterpiece, and even so one of this year’s freshest voices so far.
If you were a fan of 2009′s self titled effort from Miike Snow, know right away that no track on Happy to You can officially match up to “Animal.” In fact it seems like none here even aspire to dethrone the fan favorite, even though the ear-drawing trio of “Enter the Joker’s Lair,” “The Wave,” and “Devil’s Work” are truly reason enough to try the album out. But it’s hard to look back with too much nostalgia, because as a whole Happy to You stands up as the better album.
They picked the right few to begin with at least. “Enter the Joker’s Lair” is as charming as it is odd, as silly sampling and lethargic synth surround the steady movement of unassuming piano. “The Wave” picks things up while simultaneously giving the band a chance to play with and modulate Wyatt’s stuffy-nosed vocals. And last but not least, “Devil’s Work” plays the routine single, including more elaborate composition despite a chorus with less pronouncement than expected. They do a great job in rousing interest, and although the rest of the album can’t live up to their promise, you won’t be sorry you continued on.
Where things get interesting on Happy to You is after this rift. The trio plays around with narrative in “Vase” and “Black Tin Box,” both vaguely reminiscent of a fuzzier Vampire Weekend. Stronger tracks in this latter two thirds are the somber “God Help This Divorce” with its criminally understated melody and “Pretender,” a repetitive but upbeat piece amid the admittedly toned-down b-sides. The final track “Paddling Out” feels cheap though by the end, for it would have worked much better towards the first half of Happy to You. But the album’s originality is sadly spent by this point, “Black Tin Box” squeezing the last bit of interest in with Lykke Li’s strange cameo.
Important to note about Happy to You though is the fact that, while a fun listen and a refreshing change of pace, it sort of leaves Miike Snow tapped out. Richer composition may have dipped too far into the realm of collaborative band Discovery though, so for that matter it’s possible to see how minimalist piano-driven pop can feel more vibrant. Doubtful will Happy to You re-surge at the end of 2012 to be one of its better albums, but as far as this first quarter goes it’s up there.