If you’ve gone to any shows for Death Cab for Cutie, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, or David Byrne, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already been turned on to Architecture in Helsinki, and their eclectic sound. Or you might be from Australia, in which case you should probably just skip to all the parts about their latest album, Places Like This (Polyvinyl).
Places Like This is the third album from the Melbourne-based ensemble, and old and new fans alike should be pretty pleased with the new direction the band has taken. Two years after the release of the melodic, slower In Case We Die, the band has upped the ante in a new album that retains the soul of their sound while picking up the pace to get you moving.
The single, “Heart it Races”, with its tribal calypso beats (not to mention a few opening chants that bring Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” immediately to mind) will probably do most of the selling of this new album, as the beat is as infectious as mono. The good news for the intrepid pioneers who are willing to base an impression of a band off of one song is that the single is rather indicative of the major themes of the album. Imagine getting drunk with your friends and watching Tom Cruise’s seminal classic Cocktail on repeat for about four hours straight and you just might have found the inspiration for the sound of Places Like This. Tracks like “Like it or Not” and “Lazy (Lazy)” keep up the poppy vibe, as if you’re deep into the late hours of the house band at a destination wedding.
With a mixture of instruments, from an analog synthesizer to the occasional recorder, Architecture in Helsinki manages to bring more than a few bands to mind, seamlessly blending their styles into one that is distinctly theirs. Cameron Bird’s vocals are a mixture of Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Fred Schneider of the B52s…and this is a good thing. It provides a sense of fun and humor, and pretty much brings back the message that music can be enjoyed like a cold can of soda in the sweltering summer. “Hold Music” is reminiscent of the poppy dance sound of the B52s, down to Kellie Sutherland’s vocals, singing “Hold music, hold music, give it to me baby,” as if she were channeling Kate Pierson. The band transitions just as easily into the New Wave synth-rock of the likes of Devo on “Red Turned White”, then throws in tastes of ska as the brass pipes in on other tracks.
Even more impressive than a tight album that boasts a catchy sound throughout multiple tracks is the manner in which the music was produced. A year after their second album, Cameron Bird migrated to the indie mecca of the world, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, leaving the remainder of the band in Melbourne. From the U.S., in true Postal Service fashion, the band composed the tracks for the album through the internet, recording the songs in less than two weeks in a Brooklyn studio after their 2006 tour. They may have stumbled onto the kind of creative process that suits their sound best, since the distance involved in their songwriting has allowed the variety of sounds from each band member to find their moments in the spotlight. Bird cites the Puerto Rican neighborhood in which he lives as the source for a lot of his inspiration, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the presence of more aggressive, poppy beats under lighter musical fare isn’t inspired a little more by fellow billyburgers The Rapture, and the dancehall approach they took for their second album.
Complimented by sick album art courtesy of British illustrator Will Sweeney and a clever video for their first single, AIH is poised to increase their U.S. fan base on the strength of an album that will leave listeners wishing it clocked in at more than half an hour. So, to answer Bird’s question from the sixth track, “Do you like it or not,” I think that’s going to be a “yes." - Eric Silver