We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

Architecture in Helsinki


Belle and Sebastian’s most lasting musical legacy hasn’t been the assertion of preciousness as a virtue. Or the alchemical integration of song and liner note. Or even the reintroduction of Felt into the alt-pop vocabulary. Rather, it’s the idea that very large ensembles can make very small sounds. Since the Glaswegian septet released it first recordings, in 1996, there’s been a good long run of outsized indie-pop outfits, from baker’s-dozen-or-so Toronto collective Broken Social Scene to Montreal’s seven-member the Arcade Fire to Melbourne, Australia, octet Architecture in Helsinki. On the last’s second and latest long-player, In Case We Die, the group’s eight sets of hands once again convene at the kitchen sink—though except for group choruses, you might never know you’re listening to more than a quartet. Lead vocalist/prime mover Cameron Bird professes love for the Beach Boys, the Magnetic Fields, and the Wu-Tang Clan alike, and if the new album doesn’t quite reflect all those influences, it at least makes a good case for the first two. With the exception of its vaguely funereal church-bell-and-chorale opening, In Case We Die indulges in plenty of sweet harmonies, off-kilter melodies, and odd, complex song structures that seem grander than they really are. Take twitchy lead-off track “Neverevereverdid”: After that dark opening, it becomes a foppish, show-tune-playful piano number before transmogrifying into a full-on shoutalong that’s equal parts Slits and Romper Room. The lyrics, meanwhile, suggest that not everything in Cameron & Co.’s world is as Crayola-bright as their music: “Just yesterday, was walking on the moon with your stalker/And we talked about love and all the battles we’d won,” go the first two lines. Similarly, the trumpet-and-guitar-driven “Frenchy, I’m Faking” not only features some of the album’s best lyrics in “You let me down lightly/I killed you politely” but also demonstrates that twee pop and dance-punk can coexist—and that they go together even better when someone fools around with what sounds like an electric drill in the background. Elsewhere, “The Cemetery” marries a skittery Casio beat to some Smiths jangle, “Wishbone” pairs shoop-shoop sockhoppery with the line “We’ll play dead,” and “Maybe You Can Owe Me” sends electronic currents dissolving in a postrock wash reminiscent of early Tortoise. There’s even a possible left-field dance hit in “Do the Whirlwind.” With each band member facing a potential 70 toes to step on, it’s remarkable that In Case We Die works at all. That it does proves Architecture in Helsinki’s mastery of the B&S secret: If there’s a strength in numbers, it’s that you don’t have to show them off. —Chris Hagan