Australian octet Architecture In Helsinki, formed in Melbourne in 2000,
excelled at both symphonic and electronic pop on their debut album,
Fingers Crossed (Bar None, 2004).
Arranged with a revolving cast of instruments
(guitar, bass, percussion, synthesizers, xylophone, flute, glockenspiel,
trumpet, tuba, trombone, piano, clarinet, bass),
the songs occupied the same fragile territory as
Neutral Milk Hotel's or
Belle And Sebastian's or
but displayed a humble quirkiness that set them apart.
The band, while always maintaining a subdued tone, excelled at striking an unlikely
balance between naive refrains and futuristic-lounge jamming
in creations such as
the polyrhythmic Like a Call and
the ethereal Scissor Paper Rock.
The exception to the rule,
Kindling, is relatively straight-forward power-pop.
They are all miniatures of electroacoustic chamber pop.
And sometimes the "architecture" that they conjure is not trivial:
the instrumental Spring 2008 finds an unlikely compromise between
easy-listening and Chinese ballet.
Most charming are the ones that indulge in (instead of hiding) a childish tone:
sound effects create a fairy-tale atmosphere in Imaginary Ordinary
marching-band horns propel To And Fro,
and The Owls Go, the standout, borrows vocal harmonies from the 1950s
and from kindergarten, and weds them to an exotic rhythm,
pulsating synthesizers, pompous horns and chirping organs in what could be the
best post-modern parody of muzak.
Streamlining the arrangements, In Case We Die (Bar/None, 2005)
sounded less cryptic and more expansive, almost vulgar at times compared with
the gentle timidity of its predecessor. In terms of creativity, the wealth
of ideas packed in a song sometimes turned them into mini-suites.
the cabaret-tish Nevereverdid undergoes enough metamorphoses in five
minutes to completely annihilate its own sense of purpose.
In Case We Die is a mini-operetta in four acts (and just three minutes
Do the Whirlwind is a syncopated Afro-Indian-Polynesian-jazz shuffle.
Even the more cohesive and straight-forward structures, such as
upbeat ditty It's 5 (the catchiest of the bunch),
and the girlish, magniloquent Wishbone, each of which parodies a stereotypical
genre, evoked the vision of an alien's collage of random signs of human
The suspicion that this was meant to be an operetta exuded as well from the
children's singalong Tiny Paintings, the
psychedelic carnaval Maybe, the
frantic rockabilly The Cemetary (one of the most amusing skits), the
Caribbean shuffle Need To Shout.
Places Like This (Polyvinyl, 2007) went too far in the program of
making their sound even wilder. It turned out to be more childish than
creative, especially since vocalist Cameron Bird decided to sing the entire
album in an odd register. Like It Or Not is easily the standout,
followed by the mayhem of Hold Music and the funky
The no-frills pop song (Nothing's Wrong, Underwater) fail on
both counts (catchiness, creativity).
On the other hand,
Moment Bends (2011) aligned to the trendy synth-pop revival with
less than dignified results.
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