Oftentimes, our first initial experience with an artist/event/idea is the sweetest, never to be fully replicated again. Ideally, the first encounter should mirror subsequent ones in some form or fashion; yet, this line of thinking sometimes doesn’t quite play out. Just because an experience was so great the first time around doesn’t necessarily mean that the second time will be so pleasant.
Miike Snow’s new album, Happy To You, as a prime example of this. I was hooked after listening to his wonderful self titled debut album in 2010, which featured a slew of catchy, fun, and energetic songs. However, Happy To You proves that first time around is often sweeter, as the new collection of songs often falls flat, feeling strangely subdued and border line annoying.
On Happy To You, many of the elements that made their debut album so great are eliminated, which shifts the music from fun and energetic to monotonous and annoying. Take for example “Vase”, which starts off featuring a catchy stomp/clap beat backed only by lead singer Andrew Wyatt’s vocals. Unfortunately, three minutes into the song, the same monotonous beat continues to play and one quickly grows bored, realizing the group has nothing else to offer on this track. This same sense of boredom is prevalent throughout most of the tracks on Happy To You. “Black Tin Box” most notably exudes this, very quickly turning becoming annoying, as the same slow lumbering beat drags along coupled with some rather odd, and strangely unpleasant, vocal melodies from Wyatt and guess contributor Lykke Li.
With this new direction, Happy to You becomes a strangely subdued record overall. Its a much more muted affair than the first time around and unfortunately thats not a good thing. Perhaps viewing this record under the lens of their previous effort is an unfair approach. However, it’s hard to not feel as if the group has taken a step back as nothing even comes close to, or builds upon, the tone and feel of standouts from their previous effort such as “Animal” or “Song for No One”. This rather jarring change of direction, makes it hard to even listen to this record without thinking back longingly to those previous tracks. It feels as if Miike Snow, along with many other artists, have been heavily influenced by the minimalist electro music feel pioneered by James Blake on his self titled debut. However, unlike Blake, who was able to create a richer atmosphere through the absence of sounds, Happy To You’s subdued approach feels as if its all together missing critical sonic elements. Several instances occur throughout the album where the presence of the drums, melody, or even vocals fall short due to the smothered and washed out glaze that has been painted over many of the songs.
Despite all the negatives above, it would be unfair to say that everything offered up on Happy To You is a miss. In fact two songs in particular, “Devil’s Work” and “Pretender “, are strong efforts that are reminiscent of the groups older material. On “Devil’s Work” the gang features a killer piano melody layered with heavy delay that really carries the whole song through. Unlike most of the other songs on the album, there’s a certain energy to the track, which is captured well by the heavy drum beat and horns placed throughout. “Pretender” is another standout, mostly due to the commanding position Miike Snow’s vocals play here. Due to this, its one of the few track’s in which Snow’s voice doesn’t serve as just another instrument but instead a vehicle which delivers meaning to the song. Ultimately, this is when the group is at their best, creating a unique blend between electronic music and the more traditional singer/songwriter framework.
All in all, Happy To You is a disappointment and feels like a step in the wrong direction. Perhaps my negative reaction is too strong at the moment, and the record will grow on me with time. However, when compared to their self titled debut the new record falls flat in so many areas. Sorry Miike Snow, but it looks like you just served up some Sour Milk.