It’s useful to remember that Miike Snow is slumming it. Not because a trio of Stockholm-based studio super-producers shouldn’t have something to call their own—in this case, an electronically powered indie-pop outfit—but because the band itself never forgets this fact. Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, a.k.a. Bloodshy And Avant, are men capable of extraordinary things, of writing chart hits that woo critics and win Grammys, of giving us the patently unexpected gift that was Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” And their partner Andrew Wyatt, the voice of Miike Snow, hails from Mark Ronson’s camp. Words like “restraint” shouldn’t apply to anything these three touch, yet even after touring the world behind 2009’s Miike Snow, they ostensibly refuse to deliver an album that matches the immediacy of their breakout single, “Animal.”
Happy To You begins promisingly, with thick, wobbly synths, chiming keys, and an irrepressible Balearic beat. Despite the goofy name, “Enter The Joker’s Lair” is smart and enticing, like a pumped-up and spit-shined collaboration between the Books and Battles. “The Wave” follows, riding atop a steamroller of percussion— handclaps, marching snares, heavy piano hits—and though Wyatt’s vocals recall a sad-faced Peter Gabriel, the song is steeped in the kind of effervescent magic that makes Lykke Li and Peter Bjorn And John stars in their own right. The dark, dense cinematic disco of the single “Devil’s Work” brings this three-of-a-kind to a premature close, and Happy drops off from there, with “Vase” getting lost in its own minimal arrangements and “God Help This Divorce” floating aimlessly in Beatles-y psychedelia.
Being interesting isn’t Miike Snow’s problem. In fact, the downbeat blandness that affected the group’s debut has been rooted out by surging orchestras, inventive synthesizers, a creepy Lykke Li cameo (“Black Tin Box”), and even a choice break-beat on the album’s gloriously careening closer, “Paddling Out.” But by and large these songs feel held back, muffled by their architects’ desire to deliver something that isn’t mainstream radio gold. The end result can’t help but feel palpably less than the sum of its parts. The hooks are buried. The beats wash in and out. Happy feels like it was meant to go outside and play, but changed its mind and climbed back under the covers instead. Perhaps the band can use its connections to score a Bloodshy And Avant remix?