Monday, March 23, 2009

Architecture in Helsinki. Fingers Crossed (Trifekta, 2003)

“Drinking stolen gin from the rich peoples’ bar next door.”

Ah, art school, ever-reliable indie rock Petri dish, you have delivered yet another adorable, delicate record. Hailing from Australia, Architecture in Helsinki is an eight-piece of musical virtuosos equally at ease behind a keyboard or glockenspiel. Rising from the late ‘90s ashes of the truly unlistenable “funk-grunge” (shudder) band The Pixel Mittens, Architecture in Helsinki’s Fingers Crossed is at once understated and over-the-top. The verging-on-ridiculous assortment of instrumentation is counteracted by such restrained vocals at times you feel like you’re overhearing someone at a bus stop accidentally let loose and sing along with their iPod.

Fingers Crossed sets the mood right away with the short “One Heavy February.” Teeming with handclaps, it’s a quick, heady high, goofy and delightful - just try to turn off the record now. Reaching its apex early on at the 1:30 mark, “Souvenirs” unleashes a cacophonous-bordering-on-coming-apart-at-the-seams instrumental breakdown that ends with the slightest of sighs.

Fingers Crossed keeps you guessing as the third track, “Imaginary Ordinary,” begins. Before you can finish asking yourself, “What is this poncey bullshit?” it resolves into a pretty little love song that will make you googly-eyed for that special someone all over again.

“Scissor Paper Rock” is maybe the most song-like song on the record, with an actual melody and linear progression, so sweet it almost captures the same wistful, carefree feeling as Burt Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid masterpiece Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head (for the kids:

While not necessarily skippable, “To And Fro” and “Spring 2008” tend to stand between me and “Owls Go,” perhaps the best song on the LP. Listen to this with the windows down on the first 70 degree day of the year. And following “Owls Go,” “Fumble” and “Kindling” show off the band’s brass skills. “It’s Almost a Trap” slows things down again, I like to think in preparation for “Like a Call,” which was seemingly created special for after-hours, last-call mixes.

Fingers Crossed keeps the party waning with the quiet “Where You’ve Been Hiding,” “City Calm Down” and “Vanishing.” All three are cute and quiet, if not massive hits.

I saw Architecture in Helsinki on their In Case We Die tour, where they were already turning alarmingly toward some brutal world-music beats. Following that, the band splintered, with some members relocating to Brooklyn to record the slightly edgier Places Like This. It was clear following Fingers Crossed that Architecture was experiencing some turmoil. In this listener’s opinion, their early tentative and unsure era wins the day, hands down.

-- Anneke Chy

Architecture in Helsinki