Architecture in Helsinki - Places Like This

Bill Cummings 14/08/2007

Rating: 3.5/5

Australia's inventive pop chameleons Architecture In Helsinki return with their third effort, following up 2005's well received In Case We Die. New album “Places Like This” is a truly multicultural disc, informed by AIH frontman Cameron Bird's relocation from Melbourne to the Puerto Rican neighbourhood of Brooklyn. These songs, written in a 40-degree shoebox apartment in South Williamsburg, are brimful of sweltering, energetic summer melodies, and brash multi-coloured calypso. It's the new wave meets the new world.

Take first single “Heart It Races,” its stripped down electronic break beat rhythms, steel drums, and stinging keyboard lines are augmented by Kellie Sutherland's squawking “nah nah nah nah” refrains and euphoric breakdowns, like the childlike melodies of Sesame Street meeting the jerky funk of Talking Heads in a conga line. While probable next single 'Hold Music” is even better a joyous slice of multi instrumental pop - cow bells, steel drums and dance floor breakdowns, duel vocals spar and spear, sounding rather like the the boy/girl new wave of the B52s going calypso, Kellie's sexual refrains imploring “give it to me baby, give it to me baby” and as if answering her call the playful trombone sticks its tongue down her throat. Then it all goes supersonic. It's a refreshing kaleidoscopic pop rush that burns away the derivative banality of most of the current crop of UK indie bands.

Like all multicultural experiments “Places Like This” does have its weaker points. One gets the impression the difficulties in communication (many of the songs were written on Instant messenger) contribute to the lack of the dynamics of “Feather in a baseball cap” that relies too heavily on a single repeated keyboard line and some vocal trickery that never really progresses, while “Like it or Not” is frankly annoying, sounding a little like the soundtrack to a over loud, drug addled party that you want to leave as soon as possible. Bird's vocal chords are stretched to breaking point, making it difficult to enjoy. Elsewhere there are still moments of real quality though, “Underwater” is deceptively subtle, shimmery textures are gently broken by Bird's vocals (“Let Me Tell you about New York its so Hot.”) while “Debbie” sounds like Prince being picked apart by magpies, Bird's frantic falsetto and the filthy brass creating a heady cocktail. It's not the first time that “Places Like This” uses brass to brilliant effect, often considered by many a bolt on like strings, here brass is used to compliment and expand the sonic palette.

When it's good, “Places Like This” is an album that ecstatically creates a patchwork quilt of multicoloured POP patterns - using the inventive calypso instrumentation of central America, and imbuing it with an individual, 80s new wave sensibility. It's boundless and breathless music with a real melodic heart, the soundtrack to a boiling hot pool party. When it's bad, it sounds like a disjointed experiment - the aural equivalent of Timmy Mallet fronting a steel band, shouting into your face and mugging the point to death for four minutes. My advice is to savour its sweet, sweet choice cuts, skip the rest.