Australian indie pop troupe Architecture in Helsinki exudes youthfulness. They’re positively brimming with vitality, bouncing off the walls with giddy energy and, in return, repelling joyfully catchy songs off those same walls. Their live show involves absolutely no standing in place for longer than a second, and is less like your typical rock show than a cross between drill team and interpretive dance, only a lot more fun. They’re the most gifted group of kids ever to pick up guitars, keyboards and drums, only they’re not kids, but adults who haven’t forgotten the fun of shedding all inhibitions and who learned to make art that’s actually fun.
For anyone else, carrying on this sort of exuberance for more than two albums would prove impossible without a really long nap. On Places Like This, Architecture in Helsinki’s third album, the sugar high not only continues, it reaches new fructose heights. While invading the cookie jar, the group seems to have unearthed their new wave record collection in the process, putting their synthesizers to good use on bite sized club tracks that demand their own treatment in bleached-white Betamax. Album opener “Red Turned White” lands with UFO bleeps and buzzing before doing the robot into a keyboard and guitar groove that sounds as if it were pulled from Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle. Only Gary Numan never sounded this stoked.
The exotic rhythms of “Heart It Races” recall Talking Heads, or rather offshoot band Tom Tom Club, with steel drums no less. “Hold Music” gets funky, and a bit sillier for that matter, with the vocal refrain of “give it to me, baby, give it to me” sounding strangely out of place. Yet in turn, Cameron Bird’s lament “I try to be normal but there’s evil in my – hi-ya ya hi-ya ya hi-ya ya ya ya ya” sounds exactly where it should be, which is a testament to the heights of absurdity to which this band can reach, and frequently turn into gold.
The stuttering syncopation of “Feather in a Baseball Cap” provides an impressive peak, made even more noticeable by having far more space than most AIH tracks are allowed. Its minimal slither is irresistible, and next track “Underwater” has a similarly laid back charm, though without the danceable beats. “Like It Or Not” is classic Helsinki, an amusement park marching band calypso with more oddball lyrics like “my mom thinks she’s in love with you, but I’m not.” In a rush of disco hi-hat beats and descending synth basslines, “Debbie” gets its freak on amidst Cameron Bird’s erratic Muppet bark (which has become increasingly ubiquitous on this album), climaxing in a goofy but impossible to shake chorus.
“Lazy (Lazy)” struts with a bit more Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club funk, “Nothing’s Wrong” mixes operatic choir parts with strummed acoustic guitar and ascending horn accompaniment, and closer “Same Old Innocence” is the dirtiest, most raw rock song the band ever recorded. And in a half-hour, the sugar rush ends. Even the most hyperactive kids have to crash eventually. That Architecture in Helsinki is able to sustain this level of energy and creativity over the course of ten songs, or rather, three albums, is pretty unfathomable, and for that matter, pretty wonderful. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to queue this sucker up again and head to the playground.
MP3: “Heart It Races”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.