Release Date: May 3, 2011
Record label: Downtown
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop, Twee Pop
If the actual architecture in Helsinki looks anything like the band Architecture in Helsinki sounds, I’d imagine there’s no shortage of buzzing neon murals, electric paintings of bouncing rabbits and other fuzzy who’s-its in sparkly, eye-popping phosphorescence. The buildings would all be built to sway in the steady Finnish breeze, giving the effect of a dancing skyline every afternoon, and every day at 5 p.m. they’d turn off all the lights except those needed to create an office window smile, a big toothy grin beaming down to the bubble-blowing Finns below.
The progression to Architecture in Helsinki’s fourth LP is one towards rhythm, away from the emphasis on melody characteristic of their first couple albums. Their vocals on Moment Bends are back to pop, a dial-back from the amped-up-Muppet vocals on 2007’s Places Like This, but they also have R&B tendencies and occasional bursts of hyperactivity. Right from the first song, “Desert Island”, the atmosphere is that of a vacation.
It took Architecture in Helsinki a while to follow up Places Like This, which they had recorded with founder Cameron Bird in Brooklyn and the rest of the group scattered across the globe. All the bandmembers reconvened in Australia to make Moment Bends, and it’s hard not to think that this is a large part of why they sound much more focused than they did before. The 2008 single “That Beep” -- which they recorded during the two years they holed up in their studio, Buckingham Palace, making this album -- suggested that Architecture in Helsinki were back to their usual bouncy and irrepressible selves with a veneer of sleek synth pop.
It's a problem every precocious, cutesy twee band eventually faces: How do you grow up and put away the proverbial glockenspiel? Belle and Sebastian went 1970s AM gold, Los Campesinos! developed a gothically morbid streak. Throughout Architecture in Helsinki's career, they've tried to grow into an adult voice, with some pubescent cracks and hiccups along the way. Their first two albums had the feel of clever kids run riot in the band room after school, fooling around on French horn and whatever else was around.
It's been over two years since Architecture in Helsinki released "That Beep," the single that was to precede the band's fourth full-length album. Then the band disappeared. Well, the long-awaited fourth album is finally here, and it sounds like the Australian indie-pop collective has spent the intervening years focused on revamping its sound. With the band's previous three albums, Architecture laid claim to the throne of eclectic, experimental, boundary-pushing pop music, something like a new Super Furry Animals in terms of invention and inventiveness.
Whoever initiated the Eighties revival has a lot to answer for. Sure it might have felt good for a while, and for the folk who missed it first time round it was probably enlightening to learn that the decade wasn’t entirely about dubious haircuts and faulty fashion sense. And at least you don’t have to worry about another electro-pop revival thanks to the last one still being here, lingering around like a group of footballers in the company of an inebriated peroxide princess sprawled across a Travel Lodge duvet.
It’s a good bet that after only one track of Moment Bends, most longtime Architecture in Helsinki fans will have their brows furrowed in confusion, if not outright anger. That’s because at some point between 2007’s Places Like This and now, the Australian band must have listened to every Princely falsetto, Hot Chip album, late-‘90s boy-band record, and Auto-Tuned vocal performance in the known universe and then adapted each, thereby shedding the more organic, symphonic sound of their previous work. The result is Moment Bends, a blend of unadulterated electro-pop, ‘80s air rock, New Age synths, and unapologetically romantic teen lyricism, with Architecture in Helsinki seemingly oblivious to the fumbling tone of it all.
Wolfgang Petersen’s film adaptation of The NeverEnding Story features a musical score by Klaus Doldinger, as well as a pop-smash single bearing the film’s name. The song is heavy on synthesizers, decidedly heavy on cheese, and positively overflowing with Limahl. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how the song was the hit it was, but those were the days when Limahl and others of his ilk reigned supreme over the musical landscape.