The name “Miike” always fills me with a certain amount of trepidation by association, mainly due to Takashi Miike, purveyor of such famously squirmy shock schlock as Audition and Ichi the Killer. And so I imported electro-pop trio Miike Snow’s Happy to You into my iTunes with some apprehension, expecting some unholy J-horror-inspired fusion of the Knife and Esben and the Witch, all pitch-shifted voices, chopped n’ screwed percussion, and anything else you might find on a Salem album. Miike Snow’s music is none of these things; rather, it plays more like Gorillaz as produced by Röyksopp—or, perhaps, a dancier Peter, Bjorn and John. Indeed, from those groups to Lykke Li, ceo, Robyn, and even the Cardigans, the group throws enough hat tips to modern Swedish music into their repertoire that the eclecticism is both a strength and a weakness, at once polished and well-crafted yet soulless and derivative.
The bias toward a bright pop sheen is no accident, as two of Miike Snow’s three members are producers Bloodshy and Avant, a.k.a. Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, whose résumé is filled with such star-studded projects as Britney Spears’s “Toxic” and a couple of tracks from Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor. Both Karlsson and Winnberg have a natural proclivity toward glossy, glammy dance-pop, and their work here is no different: For the most part, the clubby BPM that Brit and Madge have been dancing to for a decade or so thumps beneath Happy to You‘s glittery flesh. Thick, hammering beatlines are Karlsson and Winnberg’s bread and butter, and when the pulse is going strong, their music soars accordingly.
It’s the same reason why the muscular, snare drum-fueled “The Wave” succeeds while slow, lightly percussive pieces like “Archipelago” falter: Take Miike Snow away from the nightclub and into more quiet and deliberative confines, and everything tends to go flat. Which wouldn’t be much of a problem if Happy to You wasn’t so heavily positioned as a kind of genre-defying blend of radio-ready Eurodance and darker electro-rock. Quite consistently, Miike Snow fails to deliver the latter half of that equation, and so when tracks like “Black Tin Box” slither into earshot, there’s very little weight to the proceedings. As it turns out, beneath all the shattering percussion, well-timed sound crashes, and plethora of borrowed ideas, Happy to You is rather skeletal.