iamamiwhoami // Kin // June 11 // To Whom It May Concern
By now we all established the fact that when the planet says “POP”, Sweden replies “how high?”. What you don’t usually expect from the hook minded Scandinavians is the sort of internet memes that would make the whole world shut up, take notice and skip through their daily ruitine thinking about just who the hell you really are. That’s exactly what iamamiwhoami did. Finally, two years after she first hit the Youtube, we have a studio LP to back up the videos.
Other than the background staff, iamamiwhoami is singer-songwriter Jonna Lee. She mixes ambient, trip hop, synthpop and dream pop to create the sort of easily enjoyable music that stands quite far removed from the likes of Robyn or Lykke Li. The videos and some of the early song titles might make you think that iamamiwhoami is dealing with ideas before offering music but her first proper LP Kin begs to differ. This is honest to hooks pop music that isn’t all that weird as some people would want you to think. The opening punch of Sever and Drop portrays Lee as a more streamlined cousin to The Knife, former is chilled out, emotional dream pop and the latter wouldn’t sound out of place in nightclubs. So forget the videos, forget the zany clues and all that intelligent but distracting stuff, Kin is a pop album by a woman from Sweden, we sure heard about those before didn’t we?
What’s different about Kin is how it doesn’t sound sugary, it doesn’t feel like it’s sucking up and trying to imitate established artists from the UK or the USA. Kin doesn’t sound all that bothered whether you like it, approach it or even listen to it. That is a very good trait for a pop album because this year biggest Swedish export was a couple of try-hards thinking that painting their faces will prevent them from failing miserably (luckily, they flopped hard). Even when you don’t think about all the videos, Kin treads that thin line between pop pleasure and experimentation without much failure. Play is one of the most memorable things on here, opening with a passage of noise before turning into something that could be described as a ballad, and a beautiful one at that. Still, experimentation aside, iamamiwhoami is the best when she is focused on what makes good pop, ultimately this is what she does on Kin. In Due Order focuses to much on separate parts of itself and doesn’t form a good, cohesive song. The follow-up Idle Talk sounds a lot like that Class Actress record from last year. Kin might be unfocused but as far as actually enjoyable experimental pop in 2012 goes, this is where it’s currently at.
Oh but if you like your pop with ideas that may or might not go over your head, go to iamamiwhoami’s Youtube channel. Every single track from the album has a video made for it and they all add to a bigger story. Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the multimedia world of iamamiwhoami or just listen to her music, there’s quite a lot to take from Kin’s flirt with experimentalism and familiarity. It might all be a part of a larger scale plan for Lee but Kin is a fine album on its own merit and one that will represent Swedish pop when year end lists roll on.
Miike Snow // Happy To You // March 26 // Columbia
Ahh Sweden, still trying to shake off the shadow of Abba. A shadow that among other things make the country look like some sort of gold mine for pop geniuses. Many pop stars go to place for exciting producers is the Scandinavian country while some of its singers managed to have a career of their own, like Robyn or Lykke Li. It’s fair to say that Sweden is the second most relevant country in Europe after the UK when it comes to exciting new music. Miike Snow are from Sweden too. They consists of songwriter Andrew Wyatt and Swedish production duo Bloodshy & Avant who wrote hits for people like Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue among others. Fair to say that they make the sort of stuff that ignites day time radio, it’s only a shame that very little of that is evident on their new album.
Happy To You is what one would call an adult album. Miike Snow have definitely refined their poppy sound since their debut self titled LP came out in 2009. They are much more chilled out this time, they have lost a good amount of energy and vigor that made their brand of Scandinavian psych pop interesting in the first place. Happy To You then consists of two types of songs. The mellow psychedelic pop that hit its peak in late noughties and faux energetic pop hits that usually have stuttering house pianos lifted from mid 90s dance tracks. Hardly any of the tracks on here work the way they were intended to. The psychedelic ones don’t even begin to resemble anything that could be called experimental while pop tracks don’t offer enough memorable hooks. Even if they do, Miike Snow just sound like they’re covering the same old tracks that Bloodshy & Avant wrote for the biggest pop stars on the planet in the first place. It gives the feeling that Miike Snow is just an excuse for the production duo to release their more far out moments but if anything, the group comes off like soulless posers going “yeah, we write bubblegum pop songs, but hey, we can throw some ambient bells around and sound like Avey Tare yes?” NO! NO YOU CAN’T!
The combination of the two worlds is different and unfamiliar to Miike Snow which is obvious in their lacklustre attempt to emulate the genre greats. They come awfully close to just straight out ripping off Animal Collective on God Help This Divorce, while the closest thing to a proper pop hit here is Pretender which more or less takes its hook from Rapture’s How Deep Is Your Love. None of this sound like anything Bloodshy & Avant would give to the brightest pop stars. It sounds way too insecure and compromised. All the best pop music in the world doesn’t care about being cool, it just want to destroy you with hooks. It’s a shame that the songwriting on Happy To You feels reserved. As if the band would be embarrassed to deliver some actual great pop songs. Instead they try to be weird without actually being experimental. The whole album feels camp, like it’s in a closet being afraid of coming out to embrace it inner pop self that it is deep inside. Sometimes I feel like I am listening to the Swedish Maroon 5. Singer’s voice is way too annoying, sugary and one dimensional, whether he tries to channel happiness or sadness, his voice always sounds soppy and lacking any distinct emotion. Everything about Happy To You is childish but while children’s world is vivid with imagination, Miike Snow offer none on the rigid Happy For You.
It’s easy to tell which songs you are likely to enjoy from the first seconds of it. If it opens with a stuttering piano rhythm, you’re in for a pop treat. If it doesn’t open with anything, well, armour yourself with patience as Miike Snow’s experiments are not the ones that will capture listener’s imagination. The band went into the studio having two ideas that could’ve made two decent albums. Happy To You is too unfocused and too mellow to be as memorable as their debut. In a stylistic way, it feels like it should’ve came out before their debut album. Happy To You then is an massive stepback from a group trying to outclever their audience.