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Monday, August 27, 2007

Architecture in Helsinki: "Places Like This"

Call me crazy, but I was never that big of a fan of Architecture in Helsinki. I'm a pretty big fan of indie pop and all, but the group's approach to the genre was always very freeform and schizophrenic. In other words, their albums could always go in any direction at any time. While that can often lead to pleasant surprises, Architecture in Helsinki just never really pulled it off, in my opinion. Add in the fact that their music lacked structure and oftentimes seemed improvised (even if it wasn't), and I just couldn't help but be disappointed. Still, any self-respecting indie pop fan can find a gem or two hidden amongst the confusion. For me, "Imaginary Ordinary" and "The Owls Go" stood out as really solid tracks. More importantly, they gave me enough of a reason to check out "Places Like This," and much to my surprise, I'm thoroughly impressed with what I've heard.

The group takes a huge step forward in their sound on "Places Like This," no doubt in adjustment to the loss of two members. The sound is clear, it's more rock and less pop. That's not such a bad thing, however, as Architecture in Helsinki's crazy approach to making music is actually more suited to rock music than twee any day! The result is something that feels fresh and unexplored. Of course, the band still has a very improvisational sound. Lyrics are carelessly flung at the microphone and out of your speakers, layers upon layers of scattered guitars and keyboards rarely bond into a cohesive sound, but it all feels raw and exciting!

"Red Turned White" starts the album off with exactly that! Cameron Bird doesn't hesitate at delivering the vocals, clearly saying "I just don't give a f***" without ever actually saying it. "Debbie" and "Hold Music" take this and run with it, the latter being very reminiscent of Fred Schneider and the B-52s. It's actually pretty stifling to hear Architecture in Helsinki playing stuff that is this harsh, this in-your-face, and if you don't like it right off the bat, you may not like it at all.

Still, there are hints of the group's sugary sweet past here and there. "Heart it Races" is absolutely brilliant pop music, and one of my favorite songs of 2007! It's one of the few times on the album that Cameron tones his vocals down to blend with Jamie's, and the end result is something that's entirely endearing. If you don't smile from hearing "I bought it in a can and stirred it with my finger singing 'Boom-da-da-da-da-da-da-boom-da-da-da-da'" I'm not sure what to think of you. "Underwater" brings things to a much-needed halt midway through the album, and as its title suggests, the song has a very aquatic sound to it that really is better heard than explained.

"Places Like This" is one of those albums that needed to happen, even if it meant disappointing a few fans. Architechture in Helsinki has always been a talented group of individuals, but their music had progressed little over the course of their first two releases. "Places Like This" shows not only a gigantic step forward with their sound, but a band willing to go out on a limb and take a chance with their music rather than simply retread old paths. It is sure to alienate some of their more dedicated fans, but to those patient enough to give it a scrutinizing listen, you'll find that this band is just as carefree and insane as they've always been. "Places Like This" is more focused than "Fingers Crossed" and "In Case We Die," and in the end it winds up being a much better, more fulfilling experience.

Recommended for fans of Architecture in Helsinki and anyone willing to give schizophrenic, improvisational-esque rock music a chance.

Key Tracks:
1. "Heart It Races"
2. "Hold Music"
3. "Feather in a Baseball Cap"
4. "Debbie"
5. "Nothing's Wrong"

7 out of 10 Stars

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