ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI: IN CASE WE DIE (2005)
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.
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