Architecture in Helsinki struck gold in their very first release.The Aussie octet sound remarkably polished here, with their mix of twee pop and nonsensical writing -- imagine a three-way between Fiery Furnaces, Arcade Fire and Belle & Sebastian. The result might sound something like the deceptively cute "Fingers Crossed."
The intro "One Heavy February" errs on the side of twee, with catchy synths and lots of handclaps. Then it switches into the twinkly guitar pop of "Souvenirs," which sounds sweetly innocent at first. But listen more carefully to what Kellie Sutherland sings. "I've got souvenirs/but yesterday can't mean too much/have we missed an opportunity?" she sings sadly. "For what once was gold/ and once was rich/now is poor."
That sound of poignant innocence permeates the entire album, over music so exuberant, warped and playful that it's enchanting. The general sound is that of guitar pop laid over thickly with keyboard, horns, and more handclaps. They also veer into childlike whimsy in songs like "Spring 2008," and a clarinet at the start of "Imaginary Ordinary."
But the songs slowly lose their more innocent vibe, sounding more and more melody. Even the catchy upbeat "Fumble" and childlike "Where You Been Hiding" sound melancholy. It's a bit like growing up -- life may still be beautiful, but you gradually lose your innocence and unbridled joy. By the end, we have Sutherland and Cameron Bird wistfully asking "where you been hiding?"
Writer/musician/vocalist Cameron Bird reportedly said that "Fingers Crossed" was the sound of a band figuring out what they wants to do. That explains why they have the musical naivete of a band just doing what they want to do, without imitation or preconceptions. So no matter how poignant, it's amazing music.
With eight band members, Architecture in Helsinki gets to really include a lot of instrumentation -- sparkling keyboard, guitar, drum and bass. But they also include instruments like clarinet, trumpet, trombone and tuba, which add a circusy note. Just try to find other pop music that has that kind of robust brass.
And songwriter Bird makes truly amazing lyrics. At first glance, they don't seem to make much sense ("Found a flaw in the ending of a book that I've read twice/I set her straight, it's not based on your life"). But after awhile, the gleefully strange lyrics do start to make sense, as Bird and Sutherland interweave their high, delicate voices and sing about how "I wrote you a letter in capital letters/saying all that I care for, all that I care for is..."
Architecture in Helsinki are one of the most promising pop bands in years, and "Fingers Crossed" is definitely worth having, for anyone who likes the idea of an Arcade Fire/Belle & Sebastian cross.