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. Or if they are, then they have a funny way of showing it.
First of all, AiH have decided what kind of band they want to be: Pop. Their press release for the new collection confirms what the songs hint at; any idea of “indie” is gone from the band’s presentation. Their days of opening for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are ancient history, and the Aussie popsters have rebranded completely (last collection Moment Bends began this process) and are seeking success through a different musical fad.
What the band doesn’t realize is why they were, at times, successful. Architecture in Helsinki had great poppy songs, twee-ish freakouts and unclassifiable bits of weirdness, and you never knew what was coming next. There is a noticeable lack of weirdness on NOW + 4EVA, and it all is very predictable, which—given the current very “pro-weird” state of pop—makes this 2014 collection seem D.O.A., antiquated in both production and trends.
Even if Architecture in Helsinki are unable to master the pop craft they intend to, it doesn’t account for such severe lapses in judgement like the Nickelodeon-appropriate “Dream a Little Crazy,” or Broken Bells-on-an-off-day ‘80s cheesefest “Born to Convince You,” or the Robyn-aping “I Might Survive.” The last of those is actually not too far off the mark in the songwriting, but it makes the mistake of trying to accomplish the maximal contemporary pop sound with the band’s quirky percussion instruments and stubbornly included horn section.
The horns are maybe the most telling thing about Architecture in Helsinki. What made sense for a couple albums doesn’t make sense with where the band is now, but that refusal to actually make these pop songs sound like straight pop songs ultimately does a disservice to their songs, which are likely unable to please longtime fans of the band or mainstream pop fans. The result is one of the more confidently presented, mostly inoffensive and ultimately inconsequential albums in recent memory. Of course, lacking memories is exactly the problem with this album and others like it.