Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Slow Simmer of Miike Snow

Despite my ideal mindset of being an open-minded listener, when it comes to popular or contemporary music, I listen critically.  These two opposing tendencies can sometimes make it difficult to discern if the artist is being disingenuous or if I am just being stubborn and closed-minded.  The process of trying to figure that out usually requires repeated listening, and I will often let an album “simmer” for months in the hopes that it will “open up” to me.  Sometimes I wonder how patient I should really be.

Like many people, however, my favorite albums end up being the ones that that I am initially ambivalent about.  With a few exceptions, like Mew and the first Mars Volta album, if I immediately like a recording, its days are numbered.  So, to keep from listening to the same old stuff (or things that sound too much like the same old stuff), I try to push through this initial resistance.  The reward is to have those songs bring back this time in my life later and be able to say being able to say things like “I was really into Miike Snow when your mom was pregnant with you."

Although it is sometimes tempting to do so, I don’t want to dedicate too much blog space toward extensive artist biographies.  I personally find it interesting, but you have Wikipedia for that.  I will say, however, that Miike Snow the band grew out of Miike Snow the production project.  The band was constructed around a sound that was created in a studio setting, resulting in pretty interesting and innovative technological approach to performance.

I found out about them through Pandora through an M83 seed last summer.  Like M83, they could be broadly categorized as “electro-pop,” perhaps with a stylistic family tree that branches back to A-ha and the less sunny side of Howard Jones.  Unlike M83, though, Miike Snow did not really grab me at first.  It did, however, give me a slightly familiar, vacuous feeling, like I just did not “get it.” Although I did not like it, I did not dislike it, and for some reason it seemed to stay in the player when other CD’s came and went.  Several times, I would take it out and it would somehow find its way back in.

“Moments” with specific songs from Miike Snow began to occur.  The song “Burial” turned the insanity of a Renaissance fair into a contemplative moment, and in another instance I caught myself singing “Animal” at work.  The real kick to the head came, however, when I heard “Faker” out of context on Pandora during a house clean.  It stopped me in my tracks, even though at that point I had been listening to Miike Show for several months.  With its eloquent piano accompaniment, it seemed much more intimate than my impression of Miike Snow as an electronic outfit.  I was overlooking the songwriting aspect of the band, and when I went back and listened to the entire recording with this mindset, I realized it had several great songs on it, perhaps even a couple of astounding ones.  Additionally, all of the songs were intended for listening more than dancing and they often made a pretty straightforward lyrical point.  

It’s pretty ridiculous that it took me six months to figure that out.  What can I say?  I’m stubborn.  At least I know I am.

After that, I found this clip and it brought the song “Silvia” to life for me.  I think its kinda funny that, when people with electric guitars experiment in performance, it’s called “jamming,” but when electronic musicians do so, it’s called “remix.”  The sound on this clip is a little thin, and the bass is lost in the mix, but I think it shows how these musicians do their stuff in an up-close and personal way.

I will warn you, if you choose to look into Miike Snow further, there are some live clips with performance issues that are hard to ignore.  I think that they are most likely the result of the band working out the complexities of getting the studio to come to life on stage.  Their more current video clips are quite impressive, however, and I think that they have improved dramatically as a live outfit.  With all of the electronics involved, the easy solution would be to merely play along with a sequenced backing track.  For Miike Snow, it seems to be important that human hands directly control all of the sounds in real time.  That is something about them that I really, really appreciate. 

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