Album Review: Miike Snow – iii by Nathan Brooks

Whenever anybody complains about pop music being all a load of rubbish, two bands pop (ha, see what I did there?) into my head to contradict that: Animal Collective and Miike Snow. Admittedly the former is probably only classified as pop (or experimental pop, rather) because they’re too weird to properly define, but the latter, Miike Snow, are without a doubt a pop band.

Their music has a very clear focus on producing super catchy hooks and beats. In fact one third of the group, producer Christian Karlsson (aka Bloodshy) is also one half of the electronic music duo Galantis, who’ve had a couple of pretty big mainstream hits recently. The other two thirds are producer Pontus Winnberg, also known as Avant (who, along with Karlsson, makes up the duo Bloodshy & Avant) and singer Andrew Wyatt.

Album Review: Miike Snow – iii

Their third album, rather cleverly titled iii, was released on March 4, 2016 and is easily their most daring and experimental venture yet. Their eponymous debut from 2009 was a very well polished and relentlessly catchy package that proved pop music doesn’t have to be bland and soulless, thanks to an abundance of catchy hooks courtesy of Bloodshy & Avant and some quality vocal work from Wyatt. Their 2012 follow up Happy to You began to dip into slightly more adventurous waters and with iii they’ve fully embraced that direction, exploring every corner of the pop world, with bits of indie pop, electropop, psychedelic pop, experimental pop and even some occasional house sprinkled throughout. But does their adventurous spirit pay off?

iii opens in a much more lively fashion than either of Miike Snow’s previous albums, with the incredibly stylish track Pull My Trigger. There’s some great keyboard work on the song that, combined with the slightly funky beat and Wyatt’s enthusiastic – if rather shallow – vocals, sets the flavour for the rest of the album: that flavour being style over substance. Even more so than their previous work, the focus is primarily on making slick, exciting music that makes you want to dance (except I’d look like an idiot if I did, although that’s more my fault), with less on the lyrical content. Admittedly the words are just as stylish as the music, and none of them ever stick out as noticeably bad, but they’re not particularly meaningful in any way either.

Use vocals to produce sounds

The opening track does, however, introduce the listener to one of the more experimental aspects of the album, one that appears fairly consistent across most of the tracks. Bloodshy & Avant have, instead of only instruments, also used Wyatt’s voice to produce a lot of the sounds on the album. This is very noticeable on the second track The Heart of Me, which opens with the song’s main riff made up almost entirely of Wyatt’s autotuned nonsense vocals. There’s also a slightly jarring bridge that’s spoken by a strange, incredibly pitch shifted voice that may or may not be Wyatt’s. The fifth track For U is the pinnacle of experimental madness on the album, which features singer Charli XCX, her voice providing the strange, rather harsh main riff, as well as the chorus and a very lo-fi sounding bridge, whilst Andrew Wyatt sings the verses and the effects-heavy refrains.

The track that follows For U titled I Feel the Weight, is when the album finally starts to slow down, as well as providing some slightly deeper lyrics. It’s more like old Miike Snow, even if the vocals have been messed with so much it’s impossible to tell who on earth it is that’s singing. It does, however, signify the shift in mood at the end of the album. Everything becomes a little slower and the lyrics become less energetic and more thoughtful and ponderous.

Finishes older, slower, wiser

It’s sort of interrupted by the seventh track Back of the Car, which is the only time the album really loses my attention, thanks to it’s rather dull beat that reminds me of the garbage that “producers” like DJ Mustard churn out all the time. The album quickly recovers, however, and the final three tracks, Lonely Life, Over and Over, and Longshot (7 Nights) round off the album with a pleasant diminuendo of sorts. They contrast fantastically with the album’s lively beginnings, finishing in a way that really feels like an end, like the album starts off young and energetic and naïve, then finishes older and slower, but wiser.

iii is not quite as polished as Miike Snow’s previous output, but it makes up for that by being so much more adventurous and exciting.  It’s also consistently catchy and the tracks are arranged in a surprisingly intelligent and effective away. Admittedly it may not properly deliver on the substance until the end, but, as always, Miike Snow deliver the style in spades.