Architecture in Helsinki
In Case We Die
I'll admit in my decrepit age and only-self-acknowledged wisdom, I am a bit quick to dismiss the current fashion, which is unfortunately the first sign of the music getting too loud, and the listener getting to old. The spate of "quirky" bands that mix up a Waldorf salad of oddball sing-song vocals, new wave instrumentation, punky i-was-into-the-Pixies-from-the-start-i-swear hollering just don't do it for me, as much as I want them to. A certain band whose name means unasuming vermin comes to mind, but we here feel no need to kick those while they are up. And I wish it was out of pure hipster jadedness that I dismissed these groups, while that jadedness is publicly decried as shallow, secretly, behind closed doors, its delicious and shiny and perfect, the coal of life squeezed into a perfect little diamond. Nope, they just sound like stylistic mish-mashes to me, borrowing from a decade's output of actual good music and not adding much to it. I was getting ready to hang it up, trying to get into cool music again, and embrace my pedantic tendency toward extremities of slowness and speed, wanting my listening to be more of a neurophysical reaction than just listening, then something cropped up in my mailbox that renewed my faith in those kids wearing ill-fitting clothes, skinny on diets of marketing/anti-marketing and unconscious deconstructionism, and its name is Architecture in Helsinki.
So much going against In Case We Die. Awkward art student band name. Big hype. Not even from Helsinki (instead, they hail from Australia that has a long standing tradition of generating pop music as alien yet endearing as their fauna). Charming scribbly cover art rehashing that of Pavement rehashing that of the Fall until it becomes Art Brut without the Art part. OK, that's too mean, its a nice cover, but you get the picture. But pop that little wheel of cheese in the player and bam, its the catchiest quirky little record I've heard in ages. Horns and handclaps and cornola Vince Clark synth lines and little-theater enthusiasm will transport you (or at least me) from your curmudgeonly rut and allow you to revel in the glow like you used to. The key tracks on this platter demonstrating the traits listed above are "Do The Whirlwind" and "Wishbone" where the shuffle of things are supplanted by a basso profundo of backing harmonies. This band of eight make great yet surprisingly sparse use of all its members and the sheer level of data that goes into these songs.
My new Single of the Year, though, goes to the most joyous plastic hook of "It's 5" with its soaring ooh-oohs and gallop of a beat and the whole group coming together to yell "IT IS FIVE!" I've caught myself shouting it out of nowhere, resurrecting the tired old working-stiff zombie I have become back into a gossamer Cool Kid for a moment. That's what a great pop song can do for you. Totally infectious.
There are no bad songs on the record, in fact the odd flash-cut compartmentalism the Arch employs in crafting these shiny toys makes them all sound similar, but in a good way. Like how all the songs on the early b-52's albums sound alike - unbroken and doth not require fixing. In fact, describing these cats as a post-rock b-52's is not entirely off the mark, in that they have that same sense of rapture about them, but employ the barrage of instruments from drum machines to sitars and a straight outta-Chicago muted horn section. I mean, I'm at work at 11:49 pm, taking a brief respite from the the implausibly grown-up hum-drummery of my corporeal existence and the shift from tambourine shaking to Eno-esque electro-crickets in "Maybe You can Owe Me" is totally perking me up and giving me hope for the Youth. It makes me wanna pull my withered fists from their usual position of shaking like futile pines in the strong Winds of Change, and invite those kids onto my lawn that previously I was threatening to call the cops on for trespassing. I exaggerate my decrepitude for the purposes of contrast, ever so slightly, but I think you get the picture. If you need a burst of sunshine on which to be walking, get this album.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com