Release Date: Apr 1, 2014
Record label: Casual Workout
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop
Australian indie pop collective Architecture in Helsinki have spent the last decade refining their lineup and their sound: while slimming down from eight members to five, the group has moved from cluttered, colourful, hyper-active twee to a sleeker, more focused brand of pop. 2011 full-length Moment Bends was their largest step yet in that direction, a record that paid homage to the sound of the 80s with bubbly synth tones, drum machine backbones, and extensive use of vocal processing. The band’s new record, the cheekily titled NOW + 4EVA, finds them continuing to embrace simple, radio-friendly sounds, with one foot newly planted in the realm of contemporary synth-pop songwriting.
When a precocious pop band confronts the inescapable wrath of maturity, their trajectory can evolve in one of two ways: They can either embrace their whimsical charm and cultivate a polished, more developed bridge to their sound, or they can quell their idiosyncrasies, thereby risking the unfortunate fate of mediocrity. The beloved of Montreal accomplished the former with 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, while the casualties of growing pains were felt on Sleigh Bells’ 2013 Bitter Rivals. For Australian pop collective Architecture in Helsinki, the group’s prosaic transition appears to have fallen prey to the latter.
Whether or not you like the new Architecture in Helsinki record Now + 4Eva is dependent on what qualities you value in the Australian indie-pop outfit. If it’s the synth grooves and sugary-sweet vocal lines, Now + 4Eva has that in spades. If it is the diverse instrumentation, unchecked quirkiness, and freewheeling sense of tempo and structure the band’s earlier works are known for, you might go wanting.
After the release of their return-to-form album Moment Bends in 2011, Architecture in Helsinki seemed set up to make another album that skillfully blended indie pop quirk with synth pop slickness topped off with some seriously bouncy beats. Unfortunately, their 2014 album NOW + 4EVA is a mostly overcooked mess that's too slick by half and stuffed with lots of bad ideas, clichéd sounds, and songs that fail to make much of a positive impression. There are some high points that might remind listeners why they liked the band in the first place, like the insistent groover "In the Future," which kicks the album off in fine style, and the shiny disco empowerment jam "I Might Survive.
In another thing that makes you, or at least me, feel old, it has been nearly 10 years since Architecture in Helsinki was a Pitchfork Best New Music band for its 2005 release In Case We Die. In that review, Rob Mitchum notes, “Architecture in Helsinki’s unwillingness to decide what kind of band they are is their most endearing quality, forcing them through multiple metamorphoses within each song.” Listening to that collection, elements of it can still be heard on their latest release, NOW + 4EVA, but those connections seem like incidental consequences of music made by the same people and would probably be altered if possible. The band Architecture in Helsinki is in 2014 likely not a fan of In Case We Die.
Moving from indie oddballs to pop pleasure-seekers should have been easy for Architecture in Helsinki, but the Australian ensemble are hampered by a desire to be taken seriously on their appallingly-titled fifth LP, NOW + 4EVA. And when you're conveying the honey-smothered subject matters of the Glee-like "Dream a Little Crazy" or '80s dreamer "2 Time," that sort of artistic integrity is hard—if not impossible—to achieve. .