Here’s a question that can tell you a lot about an artist: What’s your day job? Until you hit the big time — which these days is the point when you no longer need to have a day job — the work you do for food and shelter tints your vision and shapes the work you do for love.
In Sweden, where national tastes and artists’ subsidies are generous enough that “arch indie pop band” is itself a day job, the data is a little different. But in Miike Snow‘s case you should still ask the question, because the two unassuming Swedes — Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg — who tweak the knobs and press the keys alongside lion-maned Manhattanite Andrew Wyatt are, among other things, the guys who produced Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Know that, and you’ll know why Miike Snow’s dense, delirious, theremin-happy sound is strangely familiar.
On iii, their third album as Miike Snow, the playful, squelchy clutter of their blockbuster work is a little slower and a little colder — not just in snowy ballads like “I Feel the Weight,” or in the chilliness of the soaring synths on “Heart Is Full”‘s wordless chorus.
Like Garbage, Pet Shop Boys and Public Enemy, Miike Snow are a producer’s band. But because Wyatt’s easy croon doesn’t occupy a spotlight like Shirley Manson (let alone Chuck D), the focus tends to settle on the songs’ icey, maze-like beats and samples. There are exceptions, like when chilled-pop connoisseur Charli XCX drops by on “For U,” and when Wyatt’s arching vocals give the album its best moment by turning the chorus of the don’t-cheat-on-me threat of “Genghis Khan” into a dark mirror of World War II’s don’t-cheat-on-me ditty “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” — a love song about war instead of a war song about love.
Intricate pop in-jokes like that separate iii from the less oblique work Karlsson and Winnberg do when they’re Bloodshy & Avant, which isn’t the same thing as saying they made iii better. Miike Snow’s sound isn’t an alternative to Katy Perry’s, it’s just a slightly different take on it — one that privileges texture over personality, and reference over catharsis.
The best way to listen to iii, then, is either right after, or right before Britney Spears’ sonic peak Blackout. Then loop them, shuffle them, put them on at the same time — or just keep listening to three-second snippets that obsess you. Eventually you’ll be a producer too.