Somewhere along the line — probably about the time Belle & Sebastian turned a school project into a hit album — it became due process to take your high school musical training (and most of your high school band’s instruments) and start a huge indie-rock band. And maybe it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to all the Sousa and the (God forbid) James Swearingen or maybe it’s just coincidence, but the songs tend to be near-perfect.
Architecture in Helsinki’s sophomore album, In Case We Die, is the quintessential swansong for the retired drum major. Like the Australian octet’s 2004 debut, Fingers Crossed, the instrumentation is a glorious miscegenation of a marching band’s pit and an electro-pop circus, keyboards swirling around tuba lines and auxiliary percussion. The free-for-all collective sound can lend the music a cutesy air, but the intensity of the songs rescues the album from juvenility.
Opener “Neverevereverdid” careens from a tinkling piano verse into a synth-driven power chorus in an overhead whirr. It immediately dumps into the blissfully light “It’5” and its unanimous, shouted choruses. The songs take place in cemeteries, in the midst of shifting friendships, and in the ever-present imminence of fate over the album’s four-part title track. The oft-dubbed “cute” sound never fails to settle on that pit orchestra sound, but the lyrics betray nothing of this kiddie-friendly image.
Just like Fingers Crossed insinuated, there’s something deeply adult about Architecture in Helsinki. It’s almost amplified by the band hiding behind a somewhat silly front. The whispery vocals exchanged between male and female leads may sound playful, but enough songs about death begin to imply that the two are whispering because they’re hiding from something. Maybe it’s a friendly game of hide and seek, or maybe it’s the sound of real people and their real existential dilemmas. Or maybe it’s just a bunch of former band geeks who wanted to break loose and play sickeningly catchy pop music.