It sometimes seems as though Bouaziz views originality as an end unto itself, and in that sense, Milky Ways is a spectacular success. Easily one of the most unique records of the year, it's so unusual that it makes its predecessor, Monsters & Silly Songs, seem downright monochromatic by comparison. Where Monsters mostly stuck to blending various EDM genres with scraping post-punk, Milky Ways takes cues from a range of guitar-centric pop forms. The results—a bizarre stew of cosmic disco, grunge, acid house, art-rock and synth pop—sound like little else.
It might not be immediately apparent on record, but there is a very specific reason for this stylistic expansion. Bouaziz and his touring band, the Disco (formerly his Ectoplasmic Band), toured Monsters extensively during 2007 and 2008, and Bouaziz got better acquainted with his bandmates' musical instincts as time went on. Milky Ways, his third album, was written with that knowledge in mind; the parts are more involved, the arrangements more fluid.
From track to track, the album swerves, from a blackened, yowling rave-up ("Beyond Wilderness") to buzzy, marble-mouthed disco ("Ad Me") to mewling, lumbering instrumental rock ("Fly Like An Apple"). Individual songs can metamorphose from minute to minute: Bongos and fluttering arpeggios clear out for halting, West African guitar leads ("Spiders"); a field recording of people talking in a club is overtaken by a theremin and a sludgy guitar solo ("Glossy Papers"); chanting vocals and a thick synth hum build into a towering, zipping 303 freakout ("Medusa"). Though it mellows slightly on the back end, Milky Ways is basically a never-ending stream of surprises.
In fairness, those surprises do come at a cost. There are few truly memorable melodies to be found on this record, and in most respects it would be hard to call Milky Ways relatable. But as the next step forward for one of pop music's oddballs, it's downright tantalizing, a sign that Joakim's got many years of wild combinations ahead of him.