Architecture In Helsinki
Nov. 3, 2011
Better than: George Michael's stylist in the '80s.
When the members of Architecture in Helsinki situated themselves behind three keyboards and only one acoustic drum on stage last night at the Fillmore, it was immediately evident that this was not the same band that brought listeners that understated, twee-inflected debut album in 2004. With a low-end synth groove already on repeat as the band members took their places, it was firmly declared that they now perform dance music. Although it seems like a radical shift from their early work, upon closer inspection, the transformation seems logical.
Primary songwriters have left the group, reducing it to half of its original size, the instrumental arrangements have been slowly streamlined over each album, and the electronic angle of the music has become more and more prominent. The band's most recent album, Moment Bends, does seem to strike a balance between its early songwriting sensibility and the more recent focus on electro, but the performance last night found Architecture in Helsinki avoiding its first records almost entirely. It took 10 songs before a cut was heard off its first album. Despite their avoidance of early material, the group was in fact at its finest when looking back even further, to a decade long before the band was formed.
Since vocalist Cameron Bird stood adorned in a baby blue blazer with a green lapel, a white T-shirt, gold chain, and dark shades -- like he was auditioning for Wham! -- it seemed he was largely responsible for the group's mainstream '80s pop influence. But the tracks he was most possessed by were actually the least retro. On straight-ahead dance tunes like "Hold Music," where he employs a more coarse vocal style, the songs seemed to strive for a DFA Records style -- informed, new-school disco rock circa 2001 -- but ultimately fell flat, as the instrument tones were too tame and the melodies went down too easy. His aggravated antics on newer songs like "Yr Go To," from the latest record, juxtaposed oddly with the calculated smoothness of his band mates, but this incongruence was lost on a crowd that genuinely enjoyed the new musical direction. To them it seemed that the more danceable the tune, the better -- and that rationale is difficult to criticize.
Kellie Sutherland took center stage to lead "Denial Style" and "That Beep," which treaded similar territory as the rest of the set. But when she was in command, the '80s influence was at its finest, honing the irresistible swagger of Prince while Sutherland danced and smiled like a more mature Cyndi Lauper on her night off. Sutherland certainly had the most charisma in the group. She moved the most, but seemed to make the least effort, while Bird looked uneasy in his contrived outfit and the rest of the group either stared blankly or forced themselves to repeat unnatural, herky-jerky dance exercises.
Older Australian pop groups such as The Go-Betweens and The Church have explored a variety of musical territory whilst remaining qualitatively consistent. But it is yet to be seen whether Architecture In Helsinki's stylistic shifts are nose-diving into electro oblivion, or if they're in a transitional period that will lead to future creative successes.
Openers: Since a mishap occurred outside the venue involving stolen passports, an exploding cigar, and other foreign affairs, I was delayed and missed The Sandwitches' set. The second opener, Dom, delivered a rather innocuous set that would have been completely banal if it weren't for the singer, who sounded something like Elliott Smith's prepubescent electro nephew. To the band's credit, the mix was not in their favor, as the lead guitar was barely audible and the microphone fed back during rather climactic moments. But the tone of their instruments was so standard, and the melodies so forgettable, that it was difficult to place all responsibility to the venue.
Overheard: "I'm Brazilian so I'm like Italian, Spanish, Mexican, and American all rolled into one or something, and I'm here at the Helsinki show and I'm on pills and you look like Robert Pattinson..."