Moments Bend, the fourth album by Melbourne quintet Architecture in Helsinki, chronicles a band struggling for identity. Five or six years ago the then eight-member collective were in a good place. In Case We Die was a cracking record – super-charming kitchen-sink pop, utilising baby-pianos, ukuleles, xylophones, melodeons, toy anything and of course, glockenspiels. They were in good company too. Joanna Newsom had released The Milk-Eyed Mender, Los Campesinos were emerging with Hold On Now, Youngster and CSS were, well, tired of being sexy and having a ball doing so. It was a perfect time to be quirky, chaotic, twee, cute or even better, all of the above.
The band’s next album, Places Like This, followed along the chaotic path. Though AIH were pushing the energy and ideas that made In Case We Die such an exciting record, the diversity of the follow-up made it more than a little disjointed. It wasn’t helped by the loss of two members due to “creative differences” either.
So here we are with Moments Bend. Chaotic is out. Twee has been swapped out in favour of a more ‘80s synth-pop aesthetic (bye-bye glockenspiels). This leaves cute ‘n’ quirky. Which can work right? Well yes, but with the right material.
Let’s not be haughty, of course the album is more than just cute ‘n’ quirky, there’s great intention and ambition. ‘Escapee’ is ramshackle and sing-along with a buzzing synth line and shuffling danceable beat. The opening track ‘Desert Island’ is ‘80s dub pop, complete with synthesized flutes and steel drums. ‘Sleep Talkin’ is a modest and earnest piano power ballad (watch out Glee!) while Kellie Sutherland’s sweet tones on ‘W.O.W.’ are ripe for teens to pick and pine over (though lyrically it refers to walking on water and other such miracles). But it is difficult to gauge the sincerity. ‘Yr To Go’ is one of the stand out tracks, a full-on rousing Euro-pop song, it is strangely appealing in its own satirical eeriness – it also highlights the problem with the record.
AIH’s sights seem to be on mass-appeal yet modernistic pop, somewhere between the lofty electronic orchestrations of Clock Opera and the ditty infectiousness of Alphabeat. Yes, that wide. Unfortunately they still manage to miss. There’s too much satire, it contradicts the natural appeal of what we love about Architecture in Helsinki, be that cute ‘n’ quirky. Moments Bends feels like some kind of sardonic spoof that the band fails to translate fully, or worse, that they aren’t aware of themselves.