Architecture in Helsinki
Places Like This
ow much is too much? Since their debut Fingers Crossed dropped in 2003, the Australian collective of multi-instrumentalists that goes by the name Architecture in Helsinki has relied on piling on the unpredictability. There’s never been any real danger in their music, as that would contradict the band’s ever-present sense of childlike delight, but there’s certainly an inkling that the band’s twined-together melodies and slapdash arrangements might fall apart at the next flat note, missed beat, or stylistic switch. 2005’s In Case We Die might have contained the band’s most careless/carefree output, with the fan favorite “It’s 5!” relentlessly pounding the eponymous chorus into the listener, Casio-pop bumping up against circus brass.
But with Places Like This, the band’s third album, the naïveté first heard on “It’s 5!” stretches over the entire damn record. While refining the stomping kiddie twee-a-long, the band refines the more polished wonderment of Fingers Crossed. That sublime debut delicately pushed at sweet little melodies and prickly instrumental flourishes, showing a young band delighting in their apparent complexities. They exhaustively catalogued every one of the many instruments played on the album, but its prominent display in the album packaging seemed a bit excessive. Perhaps a bit like a child who is a little too proud of his work?
From the outset, the vocalists cultivate a selfish, uncomplicated air. Main singers Cameron Bird and Kellie Sutherland trade off their respective duties like Fred Schneider and the girls from the B-52s, with the rest of the band filling in as the off-kilter chorus. It’s the third track, “Hold Music,” where the B-52’s connection makes the most sense. Set to a beachy little rhythm, Bird fires off verse after verse of faux vitriol and Sutherland chirps in again and again on insistent choruses of “Hold music / Give it to me, baby!”
There’s a certain delicacy from the band’s previous work missing here; in its place, Bird has instantiated a battery of rhythm as the backdrop to his charming melodies. It seems like the calculated insanity playing out on the album is almost entirely driven by simple disco drums, syncopated guitar fills, and assorted cowbell-esque percussion instruments echoing the DFA sound. The DFA is an intriguing connection to ponder, especially with the knowledge that Bird recently relocated from Australia to Brooklyn and the band tapped DFA import Hot Chip to remix the superb “Do the Whirlwind” for the recent We Died, They Remixed compilation.
These messy mixes of hand-claps, clanks, and atonal synthesizers might test the patience of even an “It’s 5!” devotee (and might well scare away a fan of Fingers Crossed), but over the too-short thirty minutes of Places, it turns the overabundance of new ideas into a tasteful, tropical record. Whatever the inspiration, Bird’s new ideas enervate standouts “Hold Music,” “Debbie,” and pretty much all of Places. And the band is still fun, successfully completing their transition from cutesy electro-Baroque to a twee-funk sensation. Speaking of which: twee has always been the operative word with Architecture in Helsinki, in attitude if not in genre, and their shambling C86 swagger always tests the limits of “too cute,” “too sweet,” and more generally, “too much.” On Places, they refuse to answer these charges by getting overly serious, but they still always fall shy of too crazy, too ramshackle, too polished, too twee, and most importantly, too self-satisfied.