Review Summary: From love or hate to merely adequate, this was not how it was intended to be.
Has there ever been a musical group as divisive as Melbourne indie-pop ensemble Architecture in Helsinki? Compared to everyone from Arcade Fire to The Wiggles, their past three long-players certainly were not designed to merely be adequate. You either loved them or you hated them, and the closest thing to indifference would have been loving some songs, while hating others. Credited with using over thirty instruments on their debut album 'Fingers Crossed', the one-time octet has shed three members in the following eight years, and it very much tells on their fourth LP 'Moment Bends'. In fact, so synth-oriented is the now quintet's new release, that they could probably afford to ditch another multi-instrumentalist in order to satisfy domineering front-man Cameron Bird's obsession with 80s new-wave.
In a sense, the opening three tracks of 'Moment Bends' summarizes the album's quality as a whole. Initial indicators are anything but promising, as Bird's falsetto sees the corny reggae styling of 'Desert Island' cross the line into Eurovision like cheesiness... And that is even before a flute solo is forced into the mix. 'Escapee' is much better, with its bright and bouncy synth line adding a memorable element that is sorely lacking elsewhere. Third track 'Contact High' then splits the two, with practically every sound - from the vocals to the music - being distorted through gimmicky electronic effects, to result in one of those irritatingly catchy cuts that electro-pop is renowned for. Where-as Architecture in Helsinki's previous releases were frantically arranged hyperactive affairs, 'Moment Bends' is almost too sickly sweet in its clean production and stilted energy.
While the mid-section of 'Moment Bends' meanders aimlessly with influences from any 80s pop artist who knew what a synth was, its latter half is at least more interesting with a heavy nod to a certain purple loving icon. Strongly inspired by Prince, the three track sequence taking in addictive lead single (technically speaking since it was released in 2008) 'That Beep' through to the grandiose 'Everything's Blue', adds a funky element which at least distinguishes the band's streamlined sound from the rest of the indie/electro-pop pack. The infectious former cut employs the under-used vocals of sole remaining female Kellie Sutherland, while the latter sees Bird channel Barry Gibb, with everything from near-whispered verses to layered soaring falsetto in the chorus. Unfortunately, 'Moment Bends' ends as it started with the cheesy 'B4 3D' coming off like the demented half-brother of a boy band. Lyrics like "You put the ache into make believe" can never be a good thing.
On the face of it, the preceding description of 'Moment Bends' would suggest that it is yet another typical Architecture in Helsinki album, with all the dizzying highs and disastrous lows that come with such a musically experimental collective. However, the end product almost results in exactly the opposite; a homogeneous and unengaging release which progresses sufficiently without ever really leaving a lasting impression. With an abundance of 80s influenced electro-pop now flooding the market, the Melburnians are no longer as unique as they once were... And no amount of nostalgic fun to be had from a game of 'spot the nagging influence' will do anything to rectify that. For better or worse, a matured Architecture in Helsinki have gone from love or hate to merely adequate... And that was simply not how it was intended to be.
Recommended Tracks: Everything's Blue, That Beep & Escapee.
Had a feeling you were on the verge of lowering your rating HBFS. 'Contact High' really doesn't do it for me, although I can see why people like it. I just feel it's too gimmicky, and not memorable enough to justify the gimmicks.
Thanks Sauce. I think that in general, fans of old AiH will prefer this to 'Places Like This', but won't think it's anywhere near the quality of 'In Case We Die'.
(a) Stop calling me Jesus, and
(b) I could have gone on & on with these guys. I mean, they've basically turned into an electro-pop band, so I could name a million bands, but tried to list some that showed their alt side, past & heavy 80s influence.
Couldn't agree with you more. The fact that they're now a synth-pop outfit isn't really the problem, as they had the potential to bring something new to an over-saturated genre. The reason it's such a let-down is because it's so fucking standard. I think I was sick of it before I was half way through the first listen.
I see what you're getting at, but it's sort of one & the same. By entering an over-saturated genre, they're making it difficult for themselves to differentiate themselves to any significant degree. But yeah, throwing in a cowbell wouldn't have hurt. Actually, I think there is one, but it's a synth cowbell & that's just cheating.
Indeed, I very much enjoyed Fingers Crossed and In Case We Die but Places Like This was pretty bad so I should have seen it coming... And yeah, some people used to call me Tommy in (I don't know how to call it so I'm just gonna go with the American term) high school...
I wasn't really a fan of their earlier stuff apart from 1 or 2 songs which showed their potential... But 'In Case We Die' had enough good songs on it to make it their best. That album was what I was referring to when I saif hating some songs & loving others on the 1 album.
Yeah, fair point about the disco influence Yeti. On face value, I'd agree, but then when I was thinking of all the similar artists, I lent more towards new-wave... & felt that was definitely the case with their previous album.
Did I go into this assuming I wouldn't like it? I'd be lying if I said that wasn't at least partially the case, but I felt that I kept rather objective when all was said & done. Hell, I've rated it the same as their previous album I liked the most. And it was definitely good enough for me to give it multiple listens & judge appropriately. The best 2 songs even get a little stuck in my head! Unfortunately, I also really hate the worst 2 songs.
Gee Spec, if you were expecting something similar to Architects, you would have been in for one helluva surprise. LOL.