By: Ben Norman
When left to their own devices, what type of music do producers prefer to make? In the case of in-demand producing duo Bloodshy & Avant (Britney Spears, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, etc.), their style seems to dwell in the realm of electronic hipster pop. Of course, they didn’t record the Miike Snow album on their own, they had the help of talented singer, Andrew Wyatt, who’s gritty voice couples with their smooth arrangements like peanut butter and jelly. The crunchy kind of peanut butter. And with Miike Snow beginning to get national attention, notably through spots on young and gay viewer favorite Gossip Girl, it is time to take a look at this group with special scrutiny.
Just What We Wanted
Miike Snow’s self-titled debut is the kind of album people like me wait all year for. An album that earnestly lets everything out with gusto and with no regrets. Nothing about the album feels fake, dishonest, or held back. That is something I can admire in the world of pop, a world that this album lives in, because it is so hard to find honest pop albums these days. Almost every track Miike Snow that has expertly created for us has a home in someone’s head and heart, and most of it has a definite home in mine. The album mainly sits in relaxing and comfortably electronic territory, but some of it strays to include deeper, darker, and very interesting aspects.
The Voice is the Heart of the Matter
The singer is what lets Miike Snow stand out the most. His vocals are familiar yet distinctive, powerful, and captivating. They immediately put you into a state where you can soak up everything that’s going on. Lead single “Animal” is a perfect example of this. Could the music of “Animal” grab you on it’s own? Yes, but the vocals are what hook you in. Catchy and ready for a sing-along, the lyrics and vocal delivery are what make “Animal” the track it is. It is a perfect laid-back pop song. “I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still, I’m still an animal.” Simple and deep, but not too deep that you have to ponder their existence. You can just sing along and relate.
The same holds true with “Burial,” where his voice resonates as if he is at first letting you, and only you, in on a secret. As his voice raises in volume, he begins to let more people in. Suddenly you realize the world is listening in on this secret as well, and you don’t mind because the excellent relaxing pop mood of the music has put you at ease. The lyrical structure of “Burial” reminds me of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” Powerful, as I stated before, is an apt description for Miike Snow’s capable vocalist. While “Sans Soleil” doesn’t have him belting out power ballads like most might think I mean when I use the word “powerful” (thank you, American Idol), it does have him using his instrument gently and with vulnerability that hits hard. The track is heartfelt and meaningful, one of the slower cuts on the album, and again, powerful.
Sounding like the ultimate hip anthem, “Song For No One” features a bouncy drum set rhythm accompanies a lone and recognizable guitar ditty that has the same immediate accessibility of Peter Bjorn & John’s “Young Folks.” It is the kind of track that has serious and rewarding replay value.
An Effortless Union
Miike Snow shows us a trio’s wonderful ability to merge talents seamlessly and effortlessly. On “Cult Logic” and “A Horse Is Not A Home” we are introduced to a steady beat meant for body movement, but instrumentation and arrangements that are smart and subtle rather than direct and in your face. The former has some curious synth-work that leaves me a tad bit breathless and more than a little bit sonically content, while the lyrics are beautifully written and sung masterfully. “Cult Logic” is my choice for best track. “A Horse Is Not A Home” is one of the album’s danciest numbers, featuring a distinct dance rock feel with pop sensibilities. The cut is screaming for radio attention and could stand well as a source for mixes. Another outright dance track, “In Search Of,” not only has immediately accessible synths but is just over 5 minutes, giving you enough time to stew in the immense beauty.
A much slower number, “Black and Blue,” has a much bouncier and happy beat until the deep and entrancing synths swarm in towards the chorus, morphing the track from a clear radio cut to something more intelligent, something more complex, something I don’t think the casual listener could properly appreciate. “Black and Blue” is an onion of a track, layers upon layers that need to be peeled away to get a clear picture. Rocking a swing beat and a grungier sound, “Plastic Jungle” gives off the very feel the name depicts. The last album boasts solitary notes that sound like a royal introduction but descend into bluesy piano with Wyatt’s voice layered gently on top like a smoky dive in a sad, sad movie.
Miike Snow’s debut is telling. Every member is talented, and together they do more than most pop albums have achieved so far this year. Miike Snow’s debut is not only enchanting, but intelligent and subtle. Not every track goes for the jugular, instead it lies in hiding, waiting to ambush. I am so glad this group exists to make beautiful music like this for the masses. Fantastic.
Released June 2009 on Downtown Records