Architecture in Helsinki – Fingers Crossed

Architecture in Helsinki
Fingers Crossed

Casio-toned keyboards have come to occupy a unique place in the world of rock music – the inherently silly instrument. You couldn’t possibly need one unless you were totally unaware of your image (Duran Duran) or totally aware (The Magnetic Fields). This was not always the case. Obviously, New Order made a pretty good racket playing on keyboards, and Depeche Mode had some nice records, too. The problem nowadays is that the keyboard is now an instrument of indulgence, or sleazy kitsch.

This is why it’s so refreshing to hear the synths wrap up the mix on “One Heavy February,” the dismally titled lead track on Architecture in Helsinki’s debut record, Fingers Crossed. It’s refreshing because it’s not kitschy or nostalgic. The synth is there because the shit just sounds good. Moving through the rest Fingers Crossed reveals a similar MO: AIH uses an arsenal of instruments, both electronic and organic, to convey the sweet, whispering pop songs to the rest of the world.

AIH roll eight deep, so part of the instrumental variation stems from sheer numbers. Most bands with this many musicians stumble through their compositions, lengthening them to accommodate egos and adding instruments unnecessarily. The musicians in AIH are far too modest: They squeeze 14 superb arrangements into 37 minutes, with only a handful of songs breaking the three-minute barrier. The sound is disarmingly young, naïve, and wistful: The soft electronic touches on the aforementioned “One Heavy February” and the scene-stealing xylophone in “Souvenir” give the impression that things could get mushy quick. Fortunately, AIH avoids that mud with soulful, skanking horns, strong melodies, and disarming vocals.

AIH is at the best for a three-song stretch in the middle of Fingers Crossed. “The Owls Go,” “Fumble,” and “Kindling” are nuggets of majestic pop music that truly showcase the band’s strengths. The vocal melodies on “The Owls Go” are reminiscent of early Microphones, but AIH’s shiny arrangements cut off any true parallel to that band. Instead, the song trades male and female vocals for the first two verses as horns puncture the mix and synths whine playfully in the background. “Fumble” opens with soul-stirring horn riff before strutting defiantly into jangling indie-pop grandeur. The chorus states, “There’s tension in this room,” but there’s no trace of anything but sunny, buttery melodies in the mix. “Kindling” rumbles in on handclaps and a circular electric guitar figure, and its chorus delivers the albums most striking hook: “I’ll be a lighter of fires / I’ll be a fighter of fires,” and one chorus in the horns mash the song into an art-pop whorl.

Elsewhere on the disc, “Imaginary Ordinary” is a simple, heartfelt lyrical turn, and “City Calm Down” is a bafflingly catchy synth bop. AIH is a rare breed of underground band: a large group with the presence of mind and good sense to keep the arrangements simple, while using the numbers to keep the songs varied. The songwriting is strong enough to hold down the fort, and if they ever turn in a whole album of “City Calm Down”’s or “Kindling”’s, watch out. Until then, feel free to revel in the summer sun of their shining, lifting shards of pop.