As Architecture in Helsinki plays on my stereo, some kids are playing hide-and-seek outside. The boy who’s "it" begins scouring the front yards for five of his friends, who have instantly disappeared. He searches behind trees, in the shrubs and finally, in the shed, where he captures a squealing child.
"I gotcha!" the boy screams and the little girl starts laughing along with him. As their high-pitched shrieks of delight fill the suburban neighborhood, Architecture’s brand of fuzzy electro-pop seems to laugh right along with them.
Fingers Crossed, the debut album from the Melbourne collective, should be categorized as a kids’ soundtrack. It captures innocence at its best moments by using a ridiculous amount of instruments (thirty-one, to be exact) that could keep a marching band happy, all of which makes up fourteen very shiny and happy songs.
Similar to Broken Social Scene, Architecture in Helsinki isn’t so much a pop band as it is a pop community. Made up of eight men and women — really children at heart — they overpower the album with reflections of a deep sense of joy and fraternal love. And, with such a broad range of instruments, picking apart sounds and analyzing every element adds to the fun of listening.
It’s usually rare and unnecessary that so many sounds are used to their advantage, but Architecture pulls it off almost flawlessly. They meld tuba noises with handclaps, clarinets, kids singing and low-budget Casio piano demos into a spectacular low-fi orchestra. And what’s more impressive is that they add lollipop mouth-pop sounds into it all.
Even in its most sombre moments, Architecture in Helsinki is all smiles; a woeful lyric or two isn’t enough to detract from the celebratory spirit that can arise from collaborating with a roomful of friends to make beautiful, stirring music. As I listen, I can almost visualize a summer birthday party outdoors with pink, yellow and blue streamers lining the backyard, kids with party harts playing pin the tail on the donkey and gleeful parents showing off the homemade birthday cake. Architecture can encapsulate this feeling of youthful vitality without turning it into American apple-pie propaganda.
Listen to Fingers Crossed on repeat — once for the instruments, infinitely for the catchy jangly melodies. Clocking in at just under a minute, "One Heavy February" should be a negligible introduction, but it’s one of the album’s highlights, thanks to some party synths and well-timed handclaps. "Imaginary Ordinary" fuses scuttling glichtronics and pining male vocals with more dignity than the Postal Service ever could muster. "The Owls Go" explodes, exhausting practically every trick that the band knows to create in an epic pop romp. The song opens with a hushed countdown, then fizzes and pops with a crescendo of percussion instruments and "ba ba ba"s. Playful group shouts and children’s voices punctuate the wispy Belle and Sebastian verse, and angelic female voices utter a brief chorus about "finding a replacement with a heart sedated."
Fingers Crossed does run the risk of being scatterbrained, but it’s hard to deny that Architecture in Helsinki’s dense, jubilant pop songs have the potential to connect with listeners spiritually like few songs can. This art comes from a pure form, and it can penetrate layers of the psyche that the processed stuff can’t, because perhaps we all are still kids inside. Fingers Crossed will always be the perfect soundtrack for the neighborhood kids to play hide-and-seek to.