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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Architecture In Helsinki: In Case We Die


1) Neverevereverdid; 2) It'5!; 3) Tiny Paintings; 4) Wishbone; 5) Maybe You Can Owe Me; 6) Do The Whirlwind; 7) In Case We Die; 8) The Cemetery; 9) Frenchy, I'm Faking; 10) Need To Shout; 11) Rendezvous: Potrero Hill; 12) What's In Store?

Maybe they did not follow the optimal strategy (as in, «hire a responsible songwriter»), but there has been a strategic change all the same, and a good one: push up the energy level. The creative, joyful, intelligent kids of Fingers Crossed, sitting in their living-rooms and making psychedelic paintings on wallpaper, are now running out into the yards, so that they can take part in active games and dispel the «lonesome nerd» tag that one could very easily have attached to them just two years ago. In other words — In Case We Die, we are going to leave behind a pretty lively trace of our former existence.

All the basic ingredients remain the same: Architecture In Helsinki are still an eight-piece band, with brass and string instruments mattering as much as, if not more than, acoustic and electric guitars, friendly electronics, and the male / female contrast between core members (Cameron Bird and Kellie Sutherland). Just like before, they are unwilling to learn to seriously play those instru­ments, although they do try to attack the songwriting task with a little more responsibility; just like before, they seem to regard their mission as that of building a powerful kaleidoscope of color­ful sounds, preferring to quickly abandon any idea before it actually starts working, rather than stick around it for too much time. Fairies dancing at the bottom of the garden, right?

Even the bell chime that opens the album is soft and kiddish — nothing like the deep, chilly toll of Lennon's ʽMotherʼ or AC/DC's ʽHells Bellsʼ — and what it sets out to announce is a small, cutesy «twee-symphony» (ʽNeverevereverdidʼ), spreading its three parts (rhythmless atmospheric intro; slow, slightly dissonant, march; fast, exuberant kiddie song) over five minutes and stating all the important points in the process. The build-up, climax, and release are quite thoughtfully controlled, and if I had been more in love with the essential ideology of the band, ʽNeverever­everdidʼ would probably be the perfect AiH composition for me. «Yes for toddlers», perhaps. The major problem is that a real toddler would be unlikely to appreciate this twee-symphony, and it is not clear whether it truly deserves to wake the internal toddler lurking inside the grown-up lis­tener, because all of this supposedly innocent, free-flowing joy emanating from the song still feels a little forced and artificial.

ʽIt'5!ʼ (sic), compressing its point to two rather than five minutes, is also a perfect encapsulation of the band's pseudo-message. Minimalistic, very loosely joined at all of its harmonic hips, with lyrics that make neither literal nor coherent figurative sense, and a vocal hook that transforms indie mumble into cheerleader scream — it will either lure you in with its absurdist naïveness and baby innocence, or deeply offend you by not making artistic sense. On the other hand, there is no use getting offended at a bunch of silly prancing on the lawn, particularly since there is nothing to suggest that the band regards its art as something more deep and meaningful than that.

What really does sadden me is that, with such a vast amount of different people, instruments, and musical ideas at their disposal, the mood and emotional impact are so similar on just about every track — so much so that commenting on individual tracks seems essentially useless, even if this does happen to be the band's best album. Admittedly, ʽDo The Whirlwindʼ has a gruffer keyboard tone than usual, and is almost on the verge of becoming a gutsy «electrofunk» number (I detect a little bit of Prince influence here), but even that gets scrambled midway through, as the vocals shift from stern to sissy, and chimes and cellos chase the dance beat away. Everything else stays firmly within the confines of the exact same fairyland playground. («Playful pop majesty» was the expression used by the All-Music Guide reviewer, which I heartily disagree with — playful, definitely, pop, most likely, but there is about as much «majesty» in this album as there usually may be perceived in a typical infant).

Still, by speeding up the tempos (ʽThe Cemeteryʼ), introducing a wee bit more screechy / croaky electric riffs (ʽFrenchy, I'm Fakingʼ), and stirring up inevitable memories of SMiLE (to which this album relates like a clumsy, inexperienced, but admiring and aspiring younger brother), In Case We Die manages to wrench out a thumbs up — want it or not, it has its own face, and that face is curious to look upon, even if it is so hard to decide whether you like it or not, or whether it is a natural face or the result of one too many plastic surgeries. Perhaps if Frank Zappa wanted to deconstruct Mother Goose, the end product would look something like that — then again, know­ing Frank, it probably wouldn't: In Case We Die is much too safe, too clean, too sterile for the likes of real naughty music revolutionaries.

Check "In Case We Die" (CD) on Amazon
Check "In Case We Die" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Am I the only one who got the Renaissance reference?

    1. What Renaissance, what reference, what "Renaissance reference"? Who is supposed to get it? Who listens to this crap? Who reads the reviews of this crap?

  2. I'm only gonna say this once, so pay attention, Simblius. Renaissance was a band originally formed by Keith Relf that (eventually) included Annie Haslam. They had a strange, but wonderful classical-prog-folk-pop style. "Faeries (Living at the Bottom of the Garden)" is a synth-pop song they did in 1981, albeit a darn good one. The title of the song is slyly referenced in this review. Get it? Got it? Good.

    1. Ross Dryer, I am willing to repeat my answer infinite times, because it is so complex, it is almost on the level of quantum physics. Let's go:

      1. I know very well who Renaissance are. Reif or Haslam led, whatever.

      2. I do consider them irrelevant after 1976 (like a lot of prog or prog-like bands).

      3. 'Fairies (dancing/living/playing/copulating, whatever) at the bottom of the garden' is a just a phrase/saying/idiom. No one (normal) associates it with some lame Renaissance song at the sad end of their career, that no one cares about. Especially when it is about even lamer band, that no one cares about, too.

      4. 'Hells Bells' is also a phrase, that originates far before AC/DC existed as human beings, but they used it at the apex of their career, so it is very much associated with them.

      5. There is a Joy Division reference in this review, can you see it?

    2. Sweet merciful crap.
      1. If you know who Renaissance are...don't act like you don't. Most people don't and I'm sick of explaining.
      2. Actually, though their status as a band certainly went down after 1976, they still had a bunch of good songs, like "Can You Hear Me?", "The Sisters", "Northern Lights", "Closer than Yesterday", "Jekyll and Hyde", "The Winter Tree", "Okichi-San", "Richard XIV", "Chagrin Boulevard", and, of course, "Faeries". They also had a release in 2001 called "Tuscany" which may not be super-memorable, but completely brings back the vibe they had in the early Seventies. They also released another album this year called "Grandine il Vento" that's supposed to be in the same vain as "Tuscany", though I haven't listened to it yet.
      3. "Faeries" is a brilliant song; I don't care a mite that it's synth-pop, but it has one of the catchiest chorusus I know of. And I have NEVER heard the phrase/saying/idiom outside of the song and the reviews for it; is that a British thing or what? So naturally, when I saw it in this here review, the song popped into my head and stayed there for a couple of hours more. And since George has stated previously that this is one of his favorite Renaissance songs, I just naturally assumed...okay, I admit, I also wanted to show off a bit. And when the heck did I say I was a "normal" person? Who doesn't care about Renaissance that's heard them? THAT'S what isn't normal. I bet you like that Ke$ha BS. Or maybe Disturbed or whatever.
      4. I under-freaking-stand that "Hell's Bells" is a phrase that originates far before AC/DC existed as human beings. And I STILL manage to associate the phrase with the song of the same name.
      5. Unfortunately, I am not yet well-versed in Joy Division; I have no doubt that I would like them quite a bit, but I just haven't gotten around to them yet. So no, I don't see the Joy Division reference. Sorry.
      I mean, goodness. You know who Renaissance is. You know about the song. You as well as I know it'd be fun to slip in little bits of your music knowledge throughout your reviews. And I'm sure AiH are a nice little group. And it's really too bad that you consider many prog(-like) bands irrelevant after 1976. Look past the genre boundaries, man. And don't be so snippy.

    3. Ah, the horrors of solipsism...