|By Nick Woodside||Thursday, 23 Aug 2007|
Architecture in Helsinki’s 2005 release “In Case We Die” is a fantastic album. Its pop hooks and doo-wop vocals were spot on and it ended up being a perfect warm weather album. It’s also been enjoying a bit of a resurgence since my daughter was born, as it’s one of the more “kid friendly” albums on my iPod. Actually I think it was the first album I played for her besides King Diamonds’ “Them”. Desperate for an album to close out the summer, I checked out the video for the first single “Heart It Races” a few weeks ago and I came away disappointed. The whole video had this generic “world music” vibe that just rubbed me the wrong way. It looked like a film project I was forced to sit through my freshman year of art school and I was fully expecting “Places Like This” to be a terrible record.
Thankfully it was just the video that sucked.
While this album is not as good as “In Case We Die”, it’s definitely not as bad as that video. Not surprisingly, when you subtract the band members dancing around in day-glo paint, “Heart It Races” is a pretty good song. It’s got steel drums which, when done well, I very rarely say no to. The tribal sound of “Heart It Races” only lasts one song, then they change gears with the raucous “Hold Music”. The song has the same sort of intensity “It’s 5!” had off their first album and is one of the standout songs. Unfortunately this very solid track also highlights one of the record’s shortcomings: Cameron Bird’s vocals. At his best he does a pretty good Issac Brock impression (“Lazy (Lazy)” for example). At his worst he sounds completely overextended. “Hold Music” illustrates both extremes. Most of the song sounds great except for the 20 seconds or so when he flips out and sings like Animal from the Muppet Show. That’s not really a plus. The break down that immediately follows saves the day, but songs like “Debbie” have no such luck and he ends up bringing down otherwise tight songs. It sounds like he’s trying to make his voice a little rougher and I don’t think it’s entirely successful. It’s unfortunately because when he nails it, like on the closer “The Same Old Innocence”, it is spot on. He sounds bold rather than manic as he barks out the lyrics over a beat that pulses along nicely. Hearing everything click on this song makes the rest of his inconsistency especially frustrating. I understand the need to push your vocal sound but there’s definitely something to be said for moderation.
In the wrong hands this misstep could kill an album. However, the songs are so dense and diverse that they pick up the slack as best they can. “In Case We Die” stayed relatively close to an “indie pop” sound throughout, while this album touches on a number of different genres. It says a lot for their talent when they go from hip-hop (“Feather in a Baseball Cap”) to the Caribbean (“Heart It Races”) to pop (“Nothing’s Wrong”) without sounding like a completely different band. Admittedly there are a couple of throw-away songs. “Underwater” is boring and pretty much goes nowhere, while “Like it Or Not” is a little too peppy for my tastes. Still there’s enough here that these songs don’t bog down the album too much.
Overall, “Places Like This” is a good, but flawed album. It’s not on par with “In Case We Die” but then again I probably would have been just as disappointed if they put out the same album twice. It’s good to see them trying new things and progressing, even if they aren’t all winners. I may not have the summer album I was expecting but at least I have another album my daughter can enjoy. She’s just not really taking to Big Black like I’d hoped…