Indie pop band Architecture in Helsinki (a name chosen by cutting words randomly from a newspaper and rearranging them) are almost unheard of on this side of the planet, but have enjoyed considerable success in their native Australia since the early 2000s. NOW + 4EVA is their fifth album, and it’s nothing if not campy and fun.
From its bouncy, melodic synth lines to the clear eighties influences, this album barely has a single hint of darkness or misery in it from start to finish. It’s almost sickening when listened to all in one go, but once you’ve acquired the sweet tooth required to cope with the sugary, happy-go-lucky sound, there are some really good tracks here.
The album opens with the infuriatingly catchy ‘In The Future’. Starting out with straightforward electronic drums and simple synth lines, there are a few pleasant surprises into the mix, including an almost ska-like brass section. It’s nothing complicated, but it’s a powerful album opener, and absolutely impossible to listen to without wanting to dance along.
This simple but catchy, upbeat feel carries straight on into ‘When You Walk In The Room’. Here the eighties inspiration is even more evident: it’s unashamed retro power-pop, and it’s fantastic. The soaring lead synth and the energetic bass perfectly match the vocals:
Baby it’s a dream come true
Standing right alongside of you
Wish I could show you how much I care
But I only have the nerve to stare.
As lyrics go they’re not exactly sophisticated (or even particularly grammatically correct) but when combined with the infectiously excited synth backing they capture the feeling of an intense crush flawlessly.
Things don’t continue quite as well after these first six minutes: the third track, ‘I Might Survive’ is just as retro, but more in the style of Kylie Minogue. If that’s something that floats your personal boat then perhaps it’s an enjoyable track but, following such an excellent and distinctive pair of opening tracks, this tired, relatively unimaginative follow-up is a disappointment. ‘Dream A Little Crazy’ is similarly uninteresting: it feels more like a rejected track from Foster The People circa 2011. This sort of comparison would usually be no bad thing, but following two excellently boppy, retro-yet-unique tracks ‘Dream A Little Crazy’ loses a lot of energy very quickly.
It’s definitely not worth giving up on Architecture In Helsinki just yet, though. The interestingly-titled ‘Boom (4EVA)’ rescues some of their originality, and from now on they settle on an enjoyably unique sound, though not ever quite reaching the giddy heights of ‘In The Future’ and ‘When You Walk In The Room’ again.
‘Born To Convince You’ and ‘April’ definitely also deserve a mention as more or less the closest NOW + 4EVA comes to any emotion other than near-obnoxious happiness: ‘Born To Convince You’ is a refreshing change, with some very pretty melodies… only ruined slightly by a decidedly questionable key change towards the end. ‘April’ is odd: the eighties-styled heavy drums that we’ve become accustomed to by this point are still around, but there’s a much more down-tempo feel here too. The lyrics and vocal style are a touch whiny and unashamedly autotuned, but it’s something a bit different to the rest of the album, yet still reasonably unlike the work of any other artist: for a reason I can’t quite pinpoint this ended up being one of my favourite tracks on the album.
A large part of me wants to hate NOW + 4EVA. Its sickly feel-good eighties vibe should irritate me to the brink of sanity and have me searching frantically for something less maddeningly carefree to cleanse my soul… and yet it doesn’t. The sheer enthusiasm and energy Architecture in Helsinki have poured into this album is infectious, and it’s difficult not to love. A part of my reluctance to genuinely enjoy the album is the slightly painful knowledge that my thirteen-year-old self (a dark and hideously embarrassing point in my life, not least down to some seriously questionable music taste) would have obsessed over it… yet this is also why it ends up being so enjoyable. It’s camp, it’s pretty meaningless, and its unrelenting cheeriness might possibly drive you to homicide; but it’s also a lot of fun, simple and energetic in just the right way. I’m not proud to like this, but I can’t avoid the fact that I do.
NOW + 4EVA is out now on Casual Workout