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ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI (Buy CDs by this artist)
Fingers Crossed (Bar/None) 2004
In Case We Die (Bar/None) 2005

This Australian band is carrying the much-needed bright banner of sweetly sung studio-driven exultant pop into this musically unsteady century. The idiosyncratic and gifted octet is a participatory democracy that cooperatively writes the endearing mini-masterpieces, plays every instrument ever conceived of and shares vocals. The superb debut is never simply pop for poppy's sake. The many traces of influence come with no crippling desire to mimic the giants who have previously walked these roads. Architecture in Helsinki's use of advanced electronica introduces an adventurous grit; the off-key child-like singing — intimate, muted, reserved — would never had been allowed in a Southern Cal studio ca. 1967; the oddball instrumentation is at times more akin to the fierce independence of High Llamas or the gentle humor of the Bonzo Dog Band. Most of all, the band never wears its artistry or imaginations too broadly: these are expert brushstrokes more akin to the airy arias of late Monet: light, sweetness, and charm pour in, nowhere more than on "The Owls Go," a deeply moving suite of alternate voices and instrumentals, all clamoring brightly throughout the song's uncommon emphases, elusive harmonic effects and crisply articulated disorder. This great song (and many others) on this refreshing, notable debut suggests a better world, a world where "off" notes and unpredictably become the charming norm.

Highlights off the more ambitious, less quirky second album include the rhapsodic "Do the Whirlwind" (the title track of an EP that was released between these two fine albums) and the shimmering opener, "Nevereverdid," a transitional bridge from what came before (their debut, musical traces of Francoise Hardy, Brian Wilson, and Sousa) to what they have become. Architecture in Helsinki's penchant for simple, driven melodies and gentle, nurturing jam sessions underscore one essential truth about this type of glossy, polyrhythmic music: the thin, bittersweet textures are always anchored to a syncopated bass line. The heartbeat of this gorgeous music never stops.

[Michael Baker]