Growth, or at least change, seems to be a permanent pursuit in a musician’s career. For each new release, there is usually a push for new direction, an attempt at crafting a new sound. For Melbourne-based indie pop outfit Architecture in Helsinski, the story’s no different.
Places Like This marks a definitive change from their last album: bolder, louder, and more vibrant. It is a startling change, like going to your first day of school and discovering that the strange, awkward kid with too many quirks has experienced a sudden growth spurt over the summer, now buffed up and thoroughly tan, walking the hallways with a confident stride. Some of us will miss our old friend, others will enthusiastically embrace this new, and perhaps improved, version.
In between their new album and the last, the much-lauded In Case We Die, vocalist and songwriter Cameron Bird relocated from Australia to New York City, to a Puerto Rican-dominated area of Brooklyn. According to Bird, the neighborhood strongly influenced the new sound, and it shows. A tropical flavor has seeped into various tracks, a somewhat ironic infusion, considering the band’s name. A calypso groove courses through the band’s single, “Heart It Races”, and “Underwater” reflects its title with an oceanic sparkle and an echoing chant.
In keeping with this new direction, Bird has dropped his voice by two octaves, and the distinctive falsetto that had dominated the old album is to be found only on a few occasions on the new one. When “Red Turned White” opened the album, he begins with such a growling bark that I wondered if I had put in the right CD. To a lesser but still noticeable degree, Kellie Sutherland, who contributes female vocals, has also undergone an adjustment. Gone is the soft, whispery baby girl voice. The woman on the new record sounds stronger and sure of herself; this new burst of energy and confidence is immensely appealing.
There are moments when the band’s new direction seems like an overstep. Without Bird’s trademark falsetto, “Feathers in a Baseball Cap” sounds like Franz Ferdinand’s idea of a sultry ballad. That’s not necessarily an insult–there are certainly worse things to be compared to–but it does mean that Architecture in Helsinki has lost a bit of the unique flavor that had previously set them apart. Not entirely though; Architecture in Helsinki remains, for the most part, Architecture in Helsinki. Despite losing two band members since the last album, their songs remain as layered and mutable as they used to be. “Like It or Not” stretches itself from a deep, eerie warbling to a feverish pitch before swelling to conclusion with a rousing sing-along. “Nothing’s Wrong” transitions from a poppy verse punctuated by Sutherland’s hearty vocals to a cacophonous instrumental before finally petering out with Bird’s wistful whisper.
Like any good growth process, there are some hits, and there are some misses. Fortunately for us, it’s mostly hits. In the end, it looks like Cameron Bird, and by proxy, Architecture in Helsinki, has made a good move.