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Joyful tracks, diverse sound attract listeners

Observer Scene | Thursday, October 27, 2005

The standard guitar-bass-drums formula by no means applies to Architecture in Helsinki.

In the liner notes of the album’s packaging, there is a table that lists every instrument the Aussies use in each of their songs – a list that contains an astounding 41 different instruments, gadgets and contraptions.

From the Farfisa Matador Organ on tracks four, eight and 12 to the hand and power tools featured on tracks seven and nine, the array of noises created by the myriad instruments would, in most cases, lead the album to be uncomprehendingly muddled and inaccessible.

After the first spin, this is certainly the impression “In Case We Die” leaves on the listener. Each successive listen, however, proves to be more and more rewarding, and after having listened to the album dozens of times, it is without a doubt one of the finest albums of 2005, in spite of its quirky structure and scatterbrained orchestration.

In their second full-length release, the eight-member Architecture in Helsinki has managed to completely fuse its individual parts into a cohesive unit. While it’s almost impossible to pinpoint their sound and categorize it alongside other bands, the dozen tracks form an album that is irresistibly up-beat, catchy and – for lack of a better word – joyful.

Architecture in Helsinki constructs nearly every song with transformations and shifts in sound, pace and tone. The title track, “In Case We Die (Parts 1-4),” best exemplifies this style that has been described by detractors as impatient and spastic. This song goes through four permutations within the constraints of a standard three-and-a-half minute pop song. Starting out with the breezy lament of a stressed-out, fed-up lover, it almost instantaneously morphs into four lines of seemingly desperate pleas. From here, the song digresses into an anthemic, celebratory chorus before delving back into the self-loathing and despair of a relationship grown cold.

While the album refuses to sit still for more than 90 seconds at most, the outstanding lyrical craftsmanship of each track permeates every bit of the album’s 40 minutes. The rhyme and alliteration in lines such as “And I won’t let you steer / commandeer the atmosphere / since you suggested running away” and “Should we chance our arms alarms set for high noon / until the shiver in the river is gone” make “Wishbone” one of the highlights of the album.

“Frenchy, I’m Faking”- in addition to having one of the greatest song titles ever – is probably the most straightforward song, driven primarily by guitar and drums (though let us not neglect the rotary tool about a minute and a half into it).

The heart-achingly sincere and charming “Maybe You Can Owe Me” demonstrates that Architecture in Helsinki is much more than a simply gleeful, cheery band with ADD. The honest, direct lyrics, combined with the soft cymbal beat and bass line that build up to a heavier, yet still delicate, crescendo at the end of each verse.

A band like this one can easily fall into the trap of coming off as inaccessible and saccharine, but they’ve managed to focus their energies to create something of an epic album that’s at the same time sonically jovial and lyrically heartbreaking.

If one listen doesn’t quite do it, each successive spin will open up the world of Architecture in Helsinki, and that’s something everyone can and should enjoy.