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Architecture In Helsinki
Moment Bends Sophie Monks Kaufman , April 27th, 2011 10:00

Fans of Architecture in Helsinki's earlier albums may look on the latest offering with the disappointment of a rabid carnivore confronted with a stuffed mushroom. Gone is the free rein to whimsical sounds offered by the 2003 album, Fingers Crossed, which included hand claps, the voice of the child and a menagerie of brass instruments.

Instead, the Melbourne five piece – who have let both their drummer and four years pass between this and their last album, Places Like This – have produced a sleeked-down soundscape that caused a friend of long-term fanship to proclaim: "Is this really them? But it doesn't sound at all quaint."

However Moment Bends is an album worth persisting with. The opening track 'Desert Island' and its squelchy calypso keyboard, that might as well be a steel drum, immediately takes you to a sandy paradise adorned with hula girls and palm trees. Cameron Bird's sweet, high, melancholic voice cuts delectably through said keyboard, tight drums and woodwind whistles – if you close your eyes the latter could be the song of birds circling the island.

From here on it is a mix of up-tempo pop tunes and electro ballads with Bird occasionally handing the mike over to the band's sole femme, Kellie Sutherland. The sprawling orchestral ensemble has been reduced to the odd flute presence but the synth remains a disciplined companion throughout. It is this electronic mastery that prevents the album from falling into the blandness it circles.

Moment Bends is a grower that can take you from tolerating its technical but derivative proficiency to actual devotion. 'Contact High', the first single, reached the heights of #2 in the Australian iTunes charts and is a triumph of controlled vocal and electronic harmonies, with a slow, insouciant build that knows exactly how long to leave each twang echoing before moving languidly onwards.

Another highlight is the tender and wistful penultimate song 'Everything's Blue'. The interplay between tight drumming, twinkling synths and Bird's ingénue strains carefully honed to a stage whisper exemplify the change in AiH's sound. The creativity that used to be as ostentatious and playful as a cock-shaped crystal has been distilled into expertly applied techniques that are then set off against each other in surprising ways. The talent and intrigue is still there - you just have to give it a chance to grab you.

There is one track that remains resolutely bland. After 'Everything's Blue' the album bizarrely concludes with 'B4 3D' which segues into boy band territory with boring chords, earnest harmonies and horrible lines like: "Baby / don't you know that it is understood / that if you take away the sunshine / then you take away the starlight."

Skip this track, good lord, skip this track and if you should accidentally inflict it on your discerning eardrums go back to the beginning. A few bars of 'Desert Island' should remind you that even without the meaty presence of a thirty-piece orchestra, Architecture in Helsinki remain a unique delicacy with a subtle piquancy that goes down a treat.