Places Like This
Architecture in Helsinki
Whenever I load an Architecture in Helsinki album into my library, iTunes automatically tags it “Children’s Music.” But I’m not a kid! Yes, there’s been some misunderstanding, but it’s on my end: the music is not for children but is by children. Though they’re adults in the literal sense, the band members are a collective wellspring of juvenile curiosity. The band treats their vast array of instruments like a pile of toys eagerly dumped out of a bedroom chest, and their songs flicker between ideas like the attention span of a precocious toddler.
If you got into Architecture in Helsinki because the tiny Asian girl down the hall at East Campus planted “The Owls Go” into your head after playing it over a slide show of funny cat pictures on her computer, then Places Like This might just be the thing to get you out of it. My first reaction to it was, “Are you serious?” Twinkling horns and chimes have been replaced with blaring keyboards. The vocals — once soft as a tissue — are now hoarse and sneering. I thought it had all the appeal of sitting in a restaurant next to a group of obnoxious 10-year-olds who are trying to see how much noisemaking they can get away with. Children go from precious (“cute kid!”) to bratty (“damn kid!”) in a few short years, but why would the band feel the need to reflect that reality? Were they rebelliously trying to ditch their old fan base with an offensively radical sound?
To answer those questions for myself and to add more fuel to my own vitriol, I had to give Places Like This another listen with a clearer palate. But I found myself giving it another chance. I hate it much less now. Scratch that — I like this record. The change of opinion was a matter of me no longer trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Places Like This is party music — almost exceedingly so — and if you try to relate it to the hushed daydreams of Architecture in Helsinki’s previous albums, you will end up frustrated. Put yourself in the frame of mind where you and some friends have had a tad to drink and you’ve decided to have some fun on your party host’s guitar, and you’ll be in for a ride.
Much like the late Unicorns, Architecture in Helsinki skillfully straddles the line between innocence and swagger on this album. Alternately shouting and breathless, they come across like a squad of aggressively sexual Muppets on surefire single “Heart it Races.” With titles that cheekily parry the band’s newfound criticism, “The Same Old Innocence” is a strutting, fuzzed-out dance number with some serious ’80s nostalgia while “Nothing’s Wrong” uses rays of pop sunshine to bathe its rather morose lyrics about being “petrified of conversation.”
Even with enjoyable tracks like those in its corner, the in-your-face aesthetics of Places Like This can be jarring, so it’s acceptable to dislike or even hate this album. While the songwriting stands up well to what Architecture in Helsinki’s done before, it’s also lost a great deal of its previous charm. Older songs like “Where You’ve Been Hiding” and “Souvenirs” from the album Fingers Crossed had a private joyfulness to them — like reading a book under the covers with a flashlight. The fact that the band is simply louder and wilder these days might be too much for some people to get over. Though bursting with exuberance, the new Architecture in Helsinki is missing that wide-eyed coyness that comes from being giddy with possibilities, and perhaps deserves an updated iTunes auto-genre to warn loyal listeners.