Miike Snow occupy an interesting space in electronic music. For many, electronic music has become synonymous with dance music to the point that genres like techno, house, and dubsteb are all under the umbrella genre “electronic dance music” better known as “EDM.” Yet it would seem inaccurate to call Miike Snow a dance group. Their 2009 self-titled album and 2012 follow up Happy To You had some great dance tracks like “A Horse is Not A Home,” “Pretender,” and “Paddling Out,” but most of their music is either too mellow, too dynamic, or too weird to fit neatly into the category. Instead, Miike Snow lean more towards experimentation, with sound effects and voice distortion added to almost all of their tracks. Aside from making the band unpredictable and keeping listeners guessing, it results in a more complex style that lends itself to examination and repeat plays.
This may seem unusual given the band’s background. Their American singer, Andrew Wyatt, produced and co-wrote a number of indie songs with musicians like Carl Barât of the Libertines and Mark Ronson. More surprising is that the band’s Swedish synthesizer playing and mixing duo, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, have produced dozens of pop hits for singers like Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, and Kylie Minogue under their monikers “Bloodshy” and “Avant.” Miike Snow may be described as “indie pop,” “electro-pop,” or “synthpop,” but they’re hardly the type of music that can land residency shows in Las Vegas.
These pop production credentials come to the fore on Miike Snow’s third album, simply titled iii. It’s the most radio-friendly and accessible of Miike Snow’s releases, which consequently means that it’s also their most straightforward and least experimental album. And lest you think “radio-friendly” is an exaggeration, one track features Charli XCX of “I Love It” and “Boom Clap” fame on vocals.
This shouldn’t be taken as criticism though, since this pop-infused new direction is responsible for some great tracks. The album’s first single “Heart Is Full” features Wyatt singing on and off with a vocoder over slow, pounding drums beats and horns, all while a looped sample of soul singer Marlena Shaw plays in the background. It’s a pretty good song itself, and the remix featuring Run the Jewels available as a bonus track makes it even better by taking advantage of its steady beat. And while this single represented a noted departure from Miike Snow’s keyboard-reliant instrumentation, iii’s second single “Genghis Khan” is more familiar turf for the group, with dotted piano chords providing the main harmony and a synthesizer melody at the outro that could have been on either of their first two albums. It also features one of their catchiest choruses to date, and potentially the best music video of 2016.
The first half of iii is full of moments like these. From the pulsing vocal samples of opener “My Trigger” to the aforementioned Charli XCX guest track “For U,” the first five tracks of iii combine the unconventional elements of Miike Snow’s previous albums with a new pop energy. As soon as the songs start to sound predictable, synthesized sound effects will emerge out of the blue or Wyatt’s voice will be distorted.
Then iii hits a wall with “I Feel The Weight,” a slow song where Wyatt sings in an artificially low voice that seems to go on forever despite being less than four minutes long. This marks iii’s potentially biggest issue – it’s a very frontloaded album. Only penultimate track “Over and Over” manages to bring back some of the energy, with a guitar sample vaguely reminiscent of Muses’s “Supermassive Black Hole.” Otherwise, it’s a fairly unmemorable stretch to the end.
This is a shame, since Miike Snow’s self-titled album and Happy To You were never forgettable, even in their lowest moments. The former had enough drum machine beats and glitch-like instrumentation to thoroughly differentiate each track, while the latter contained an eclectic mix of 90s-esque keyboard parts and military snare drumming to make it a really unique electronic album. Now iii brings some really strong singles and fairly bland fillers. While Miike Snow should be commended for making three albums that show an evolving sound that deflects any concerns of stagnation, iii is nevertheless a somewhat uneven effort, albeit one with some very fun moments.