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Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die

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Artist: Architecture in Helsinki

Album: In Case We Die

Label: Bar-None

Review date: May. 3, 2005

The operetta, commonly viewed with derision by high-minded types, has long been the playground of more serious musicians. Schubert, Friml, even Mozart, composed these romantic, comic operas for broader audiences (often under a nom de plum) as populist entreats. Direct comparisons to Viennese composers aside, In Case We Die – the second full length from Australian eight-piece Architecture in Helsinki – shares a markedly similar quality. Both comic and arche, the 12 songs found here sound decidedly more like an operetta than the sophomore pop album that their comparatively tame debut, Fingers Crossed, implied.

Soaring choirs, questionably-tuned horn sections, and a fascination with a baroque whimsy are the common threads binding songs that owe debts to such disparate influences as Os Mutantes, Brokeback and Marianne Faithful. The punk-tinged stomp of “Wishbone” recalls Heavenly set loose on the stage with the supporting ensemble of Les Miserables – an end far more pleasing than one might imagine. In a similar turn, “It’5!” draws equally from Free Design and Godspell, resulting in a song that is as memorable as it is flamboyant.

If In Case We De has a glaring weakness, it is almost certainly a propensity for drifting into the realm of contrived circus pop purveyed at times by labelmates Of Montreal. “The Cemetary” lacks both the sophistication and the dynamics of the better tracks here, resembling more closely an Elephant 6 rave-up than the high pop craft that the album nearly attains.

Therein lies the soul of the operetta – and by turn In Case We Die; elevation of popular styles as high art for the masses. Incorporating an ensemble cast of more than forty musicians and vocalists, Architecture in Helsinki delivers complex, dynamic composition and arrangement in a package that, while not universally digestible, is entertaining for all.

By Ian Fitzpatrick

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Fingers Crossed

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