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Architecture in Helsinki - Fingers Crossed

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Artist: Architecture in Helsinki

Album: Fingers Crossed

Label: Bar-None

Review date: Jun. 1, 2004

The packaging of Architecture in Helsinki’s Fingers Crossed includes a quasi-scientific chart documenting the 31 different instruments on the album and when they were used. Obviously the band is proud of its extensive equipment; even at a time when orchestral accompaniment on rock albums is commonplace, their arsenal of synths and horns cuts a rather impressive figure. With all these instruments in tow, one might expect Fingers Crossed to fall into the genre of “orchestral pop.” In a sense it does, but it also lacks the density one might expect. Far from the symphonic bombast of, say, the Polyphonic Spree, Architecture in Helsinki favors a lighter, more lo-fi sound; the elements of the orchestra may be in place, but they’re used in a decidedly idiosyncratic fashion.

While the suite-like song structures and off-kilter arrangements offer an alternative to the relative monophony of their colleagues (the Spree, Mercury Rev), Architecture in Helsinki doesn’t seem to have the songwriting chops to make them worthwhile. Much of Fingers Crossed is, instrumental resources notwithstanding, disappointingly uninspired pop. “Souvenirs” sounds like it was built with a twee-pop generating computer program, and the faux-Beach Boys progressions of “Scissor Paper Rock” come off as an imitation of the imitators. The most conventionally poppy songs on the album are definitely the weakest, and they gain little from ornamental orchestrations.

One generally thinks of orchestral pop outfits (The High Llamas, The Divine Comedy, et al) as painstakingly precise. Architecture in Helsinki take the risk of a sloppier, more spontaneous approach, which leaves their more conventional material – the sort usually dependent on clarity and punch – dead in the water. The more fragmented songs, however, point to an altogether different approach in composition, emphasizing pastiche and juxtaposition over melody and catchiness. “The Owls Go,” the best of the fragmentary pieces, jumps from section to section in a manner that recalls, albeit in a crude and unpolished way, the “pocket symphony” of “Good Vibrations,” or the ADD-pop of the Unicorns.

Architecture in Helsinki are at their best when they abandon pop norms for more experimental territory; unfortunately Fingers Crossed contains much too little in the way of experimentation to save it from chronic dullness. It’s not polished or well-written enough to be good sugary pop, and not unconventional or inventive enough to pass as anything else.

By Michael Cramer

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