Fresh off a three-year hiatus, the electropop trio Miike Snow makes up for the wait with an album full of undeniably catchy hooks and melodies that seem designed to stick in your head for days. Swedish songwriters Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg worked with no less than Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears before teaming up with their American vocalist Andrew Wyatt. Before the release of iii (), the trio was best known for its 2009 singles “Animal” and “Burial,” off the self-titled debut album, and there are definitely hints of that sound throughout iii. Wyatt’s voice is unmistakable, as is the band’s enthusiasm for warping and playing with those vocals, along with just about everything else.
But, let’s be honest, if you’ve heard of Miike Snow, it’s probably because a friend made you watch the music video for “Genghis Khan,” which dropped in December and at the moment is approaching 3 million views on YouTube. A stylishly choreographed send-up of spy thrillers from the 1960s, lovingly rendered in slightly grainy technicolor, the video follows a camp supervillain’s domestic malaise and his complicated feelings for the James Bond lookalike strapped down in front of an enormous ray gun. The video is adorable, and the song itself, catchy and infectious. It’s about as much fun as you can have with a song about trust issues, and luckily, it never becomes too self-serious. The lyrics — “I get a little bit Genghis Khan/Don’t want you to get it on/With nobody else but me” — suggests that the band is striving for comedic effect, rather than a straight-faced parallel between teenage jealousy and a medieval Eurasian conqueror.
The third track, “Genghis Khan” is a high point of iii, and going into the album, you could be forgiven for expecting nine more one-off pop hits of varying quality. But Miike Snow won’t be pinned down that easily. While the sound is unmistakably theirs, the band finds more inspiration from hip-hop this time around, rather than the straight-up indie pop aesthetic that ran through their self-titled debut. Reducing iii to rigid genre categories would do the album a disservice. The band recorded the album sporadically in a handful of cities over a period of almost two years, and has packed a lot into its 36-minute run time.
It starts strong with the jaunty “My Trigger,” which seems designed to let us know that we’re in for a more polished and buoyant pop album. Wyatt’s voice features prominently, and is distorted in interesting ways. While Miike Snow’s lyrics have never been their main selling point, it’s hard not to crack a grin at Wyatt singing in a high-pitched voice, “pull my trigger.” As a bridge between “My Trigger” and “Genghis Khan,” “Heart of Me” holds its own. While not quite as memorable as the songs on either side of it, it pulses with synths and some interesting swells.
The first three songs are strong on their own and do have a noticeable confidence to them, but the album’s other single “Heart is Full” upstages them all with its bombastic swagger. Granted, the song owes much to a sample from Marlena Shaw’s 1967 cut of “Waiting For Charlie to Come Home,” but Shaw’s powerful voice integrates seamlessly with the overall arrangement, carried by Wyatt’s vocals and a swelling horn section.
On “For U,” guest Charli XCX holds her own, but Wyatt struggles to keep up, and his otherwise distinctive voice gets somewhat lost in the noise on this more relaxed track. Coming off the powerful “Heart is Full,” this one feels lacking. “I Feel the Weight,” another mellow, downtempo song, recalls the band’s earlier work. The mellowness sets the mood for the second half of iii, which is enjoyable and features plenty of interesting moments to fixate on, especially in the prowling, moody “Back of the Car.” Still, it never really achieves the same level of euphoria found in the first four tracks.
There’s a lot to like about iii. Its sincerity is enjoyable, and its singles will undoubtedly feature on many road trip playlists this summer. The trio behind Miike Snow are masters of their craft, out to have fun, experiment, and get their songs stuck deep inside our heads. While their experimentation does not always land perfectly, the finished product is an effort the band can be proud of.
Miike Snow is currently touring the United States and Canada. They appear tonight, March 9, at the 9:30 Club.
iii is available on iTunes, Amazon, and most popular streaming sites.
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