Listening to Swedish indie pop trio Miike Snow is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. In 2009, they released a fun albeit imperfect first record, filled with indie gems like “Animal” and dance-oriented jams like “Silvia.” Their experimental sound as a whole spurred from various pop influences, such as synthpop (The Postal Service), EDM (Swedish House Mafia) and electronica (The Chemical Brothers). In the years following their self-titled debut, the group relished in unexpected popularity, garnering recognition from both indie and mainstream listeners and playing at big festivals like Coachella. However, after a lukewarm reception of their 2012 sophomore record Happy to You, Miike Snow’s spontaneous 15 minutes of fame quietly subsided. This year, however, the group has returned to the music scene with their appropriately titled third record iii. Though they’ve been gone for a few years now, Snow’s iii marks their resurgence into pop music in 2016, even if it doesn’t break any new ground in their discography.
When you have a group of producers at the helm of a music project like Miike Snow, the style frequently takes precedence over the substance. Take, for example, the album’s opener, “My Trigger,” a jovial, peppy number that struggles to make any sense lyrically (it contains the line, “I saw you licking a dollar bill / I’m in the graveyard if looks could kill”). The next track “The Heart of Me” is in touch with modern pop, imbuing some Passion Pit and Mylo Xyloto era Coldplay flair to its bubbly rhythm. Yet like most of Miike Snow’s work, it lacks a compelling story and lyrical coherence. Additionally, iii’s two lead singles, “Genghis Khan” and “Heart is Full,” are the album’s most divisive tracks. The former has a groovy, finger-snapping beat, but its questionable chorus (“I get a little bit Genghis Khan / Don’t want you to get it on with nobody else but me”) doesn’t bode well with the song’s catchiness or even the fact that the song is named after an infamous Mongolian emperor. The latter boasts a hip-hop heavy instrumental, but its superior remix with rap duo Run the Jewels, listed as a bonus track on iii, makes for a much better listen than the sluggish original.
This is not to say, however, that Snow doesn’t excel at bringing forth infectious jingles. The Charli XCX-assisted “For U” is an exercise in glittery, hyperactive electro-pop, with Snow producers Bloodshy & Avant transforming the densely filtered song into a jittery banger. The dark “I Feel the Weight” contains some of Snow’s most mature material to date; lead singer Andrew Wyatt lends a vulnerable vocoded warble to complement the song’s theme of self-loathing and detachment from a relationship. The opening piano notes of “Back of the Car” mimics a Regina Spektor melody, but the song gradually burgeons with Wyatt’s fluttery falsetto, some funky 808s and even a violin and electric guitar breakdown; it’s easily the strongest and most listenable track on the album.
However, the problem with iii is that even though Miike Snow offers their own distinctive technique, the record can’t help but feel as though it’s derivative of other pop records. Snow doesn’t really need to really write great songs — they are primarily producers, after all. But considering that iii sticks comfortably with Snow’s unconventional flourishes, there’s still room for growth.