Miike Snow’s latest record is a masterful producer’s blend of musical styles, with a heart beating at its core.
There are those who don’t just write songs, they write songs, and the write them for and with other artists who can perform them well. There are “producers”, who know a thing or two about math and how that corresponds into making a song sound awesome. Then there are performers. That Miike Snow is made up of three guys (Andrew Wyatt, Christian Karlsson, Pontius Winnberg) who are all decorated triple threats makes them something of an anomaly. With their combined talent they can reach an audience, and it's clear that they're very familiar with the construct of the matrix. Their music is the equivalent of Eva of Ex Machina's exploration into herself, in that Miiike Snow is continually applying the Turing test to their sound.
Indeed, it can be difficult to tell whether Miike Snow’s latest record, iii, is a musician’s musicians record, or one destined to inspire the masses. This is mostly because when it comes down to making their own music -- as opposed to tracks for Britney, Bruno Mars, or many of the other famous hitmakers they’ve worked with, Miike Snow naturally deals in subtlety, and casts a wide net with their references. There are real, analog drums on every track of iii, as well as easily trackable song structures and grooves. Few tracks are minimalist or avant-garde, but none are cynically commercial pop. So, listeners trying to place this record in the sphere of its pop influence may have difficulty doing so.
iii is full of sonic beauty. It's “producer music” quality strikes a similar note as do many songs on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or songs on the less-industrial side of Yeezus. Like West's music, which so gracefully grinds up against genre only to transcend it, iii pulls some of the best sonic set pieces from different genres, like hip-hop ("Heart Is Full", which includes verses from Run the Jewels and a horn and sample based beat), indie-rock (“Heart of Me”, with dry, crunchy vocals and looped rock drums), and even mellow, piano pop (“The Trigger”). Even with such a variety of influences, the album maintains a focus on varied, sensory rich production. There's a nice balance of auto-tuned, layered vocals; dry, rock vocals; and verby, delayed ones. “I Feel The Weight”, is a sample-heavy vocoder ballad over slow, gorgeous drums. “For U” features soaring, pleasantly distorted melodies care of Charli XCX, and a frenzied verse beat from chopped vocal samples.
Incorporating soulful rock ‘n’ roll is a natural application of Miike Snow's talents. Two songs, “Heart of Me” and “Longshot (7 Nights)” sound like lost cuts from Spoon’s 2014 masterpiece, “They Want My Soul”, itself admittedly influenced as much by hip-hop as rock ‘n’ roll, as Jim Eno explainson Song Exploder. Miike Snow do Eno-esque drums almost better than Eno. Wyatt nails the dry, gritty Daniels vocals. Just as Wyatt’s collaborator Mark Ronson has an uncanny knack for aping classic funk and soul, Miike Snow employ a range of indie and pop vocal styles over the course of iii, without even looking like they’re trying.
In fact, the record is notable for its heart. It’s clearly on display in their clever dance-heavy video for Genghis Khan, which explores the song’s themes of jealousy through the unlikely romance between a villain and his nemesis, a tuxedoed spy. This playful sense of camaraderie has become almost characteristic of releases from Sweden’s INGRID label, of which Pontius Winnberg is head. Winnberg has spent his last couple of years playing with his under-recognized band, Amason -- it, too, is a collaboration, with Dungen frontman, Gustav Ejstes, and Amanda Bergman -- who put out a smooth and heartfelt album Sky City, last year. Some of his songs, like “Went to War”, are extraordinary in feeling, melody, and production. Songs on iii like “Genghis Khan”, “Longshot (7 Nights)”, and “For U” have just as much heart, and twice the hook.
If there’s criticism to be had, it's that the record experiences a seventh inning lag through tracks “Back in the Car”, “Lonely Life”, and “On and On”. The production cylinders are firing, but the songcraft, so present on the first six tracks, doesn't keep up with the pace. Even so, certain elements reveal a band committed to trying things out, making pop songs in unlikely formats, and having fun doing it. While I think we can expect a slow burn for this album’s success amongst the pop "consumerati", if you will, this is a warm and felt set of songs, which certainly proves there's a heart that's beating.