21 September 2011

Architecture in Helsinki: "Moment Bends"

“Life on the outside of a fantasy, the more I bleed, the longer we breathe; and I could have sworn my heart was broken since we’re having fun, now you’re the one, alone with me…” words that kept swimming in my head as I was sitting back at the dentist office yesterday. As the dentist drilled away, and I was more in the mood to be at home blogging, I was smitten by “Desert Island,” the lead track of Architecture in Helsinki’s latest album, “Moment Bends” (8 April 2011 in Australia; 3 May 2011 in the USA). Not my original choice to review yesterday, the song kept haunting me, then others on the album, and I was sort of mesmerized by the fact of just how memorable this album really was. Honestly, I have never been a huge fan of this Australian outfit, and the few times I listened to the album it was strictly as background noise – yet I vividly remembered the album. When I finally got home, I “threw” the album on the ole iTunes and eagerly listened to the album again. And this reminded me of something – some of the best albums out there grow on you, though initially you may have dismissed them. “Moment Bends” is one of those albums.

From their 2005 debut through their second album, the band was known for its idiosyncratic ways of arranging music, capitalizing on the fact that the members were multi-instrumentalists. The cacophony of sounds that converged to create out-of-the-box hooks and quirky rhythms became a trademark. By their third album, the band started to veer towards the direction of electropop, but I would say that it would be incorrect to label “Moment Bends” as an electropop album. Though the bands sound has become more sedate, incorporating some very sophisticated key arrangements and production, this band does not lose its idiosyncrasies and ability to compose music that is not traditionally “pop,” but has all the allure of pop. I can easily argue that AIH are more of an art rock band parading around as a pop band.

The lead in track, “Desert Island,” shares many of the underpinnings of electropop songs in the vein of Limahl’s 80s classic “The NeverEnding Story” – with some distinct differences! The slower pace and the very thin wall of sound actually add a breathtaking feel to the song. With a ska progression (if the keys were guitars), this subtle track is alluring enough to ease you right into “Escapee,” which brings up the tempo, incorporates harsher keys, and a nifty-tinny-guitar arrangement in the background. Immediately, the range in vocal styles becomes apparent from the first two tracks: from heartfelt crooning to matter-of-fact chanting, the band is as unfettered in their vocals as in their musical styles. By the third track, “Contact High,” the disco revival starts to filter in, and you are in a world of ever-shifting musical references.

My favorite track on the album is “Sleep Talkin’” – acoustic strumming usually does it for me. What I like most about the track is how the music seems to follow the vocal arrangements, as opposed to a singer singing over the music. Though the lyrics are as fractured as the most demented of post-punk songs (“When I was blue and green, and you are black and blue, we’ll add on little brown to break the silent in two…”), it adds to the dramatic crooning and the cinematic feel of the music. This is completely different from the closing track, “B4 3D,” which is the anti-climatic moment on the album, and appropriately the "flattest" song on the album. Slow paced, a stone throw away from being a droning dirge, it is saved from the doom and gloom because of the purposely-awkward percussion arrangement. AIH saves this track by denying it having a hard, steady beat – a song writing decision that proves that the band is very conscious of their craft. One other track to really pay close attention is the R&B / Italo disco influenced “Everything’s Blue.” With a funky bass line, its near neo-soul vocal arrangements, and alluring key arrangements, the song has one hook after another and a testament that some of the best pop out there is not cookie-cutter!

From my understanding, the name of the band, Architecture in Helsinki, is pretty random – gathered by cutting words from print and rearranging them. And we can say the same thing about the band’s random musical references – gathered by cutting through many different styles and genres and rearranging them together. “Moment Bends” struts a plethora of musical references – from the expected indie rock trends to a bit of R&B and just about everything in between. I can easily imagine how disarming this album is at first to anyone (including their own fans), but “Moment Bends” definitely deserves your attention … you may dismiss it at first as well, but may be surprised just how this catchy music actually will seep back into your mind when you least expect it.

Track Listing:
1. Desert Island
2. Escapee
3. Contact High
4. W.O.W.
5. Yr Go to
6. Sleep Talkin’
7. I Know Deep Down
8. That Beep
9. Denial Style
10. Everything’s Blue
11. B4 3D

Keep up with Architecture in Helsinki at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are two videos. The first, “That Beep,” from the PolyvinlRecords YouTube Channel. The second, “Contact High,” from the ArchitectureIHVEVO YouTube Channel.

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