Growing up in the music industry has never been an easy thing to do, especially for a band whose charm (and success) lies in its childish enthusiasm. If you look at a band like Icelandic impishly-minded múm then you see what happens when a band tries to permanently keep looking at the world from inside an infinite bubble of twee-ness questioning what it would be like to be a fish (eurgh). With a band like Architecture In Helsinki the transition hasn’t been smooth: though breakthrough album In Case We Die managed to fit together the randomness of childhood with a plentiful amount of joyful melodies and just really good songs, 2007’s Places Like This revealed way too many growing pains in space of half an hour despite some excessively sugary (and likeable) moments. Their new album, Moment Bends, however, seems to show them enjoying the more adult world without sacrificing all their childish mindsets.
And the good thing is that the childish side (for the most part) is more subdued and controlled and this is most noticeable with lead singer Cameron Bird’s voice. On Places Like This it spent so much time yelping and barking that you easily forgot that it could be a nice thing to listen to over and over. On opening track “Desert Island,” instead of sounding like a kid overloaded with Easter eggs, he sounds like he’s just, well, a happy person. The track bounces back and forth with synths, flutes and steel drums all very pleasantly before a glorious swell comes about in the last minute. In a nutshell, it’s a damn good pop song and is the perfect kind of transition between childhood and adulthood that any fan of the band (or person with a limited likeness for adults stuck in a Neverland state of mind) could have hoped for.
And the band show off their ability to write thoughtful and memorable songs without losing their ability to fashion a hook across the rest of the album. In fact they often retain those qualities with their quirkiness: lead single “Contact High” might be one of the strangest pop hooks of the year with its unhurried satanically autotuned voice (the accompanying video doesn’t help the strangeness); “Escapee” is a nifty little number that adds a bubbly synth line to keep the pace going. But some of the most surprising points of the album are the slower numbers. “W.O.W.” is a gentle number helped along by Kellie Sutherland’s calming vocals while “Sleep Talkin’” turns a simple jangly piano melody into an 80s acoustic number, complete with surprisingly enjoyable guitar solo. They’re nice and break up the enthusiasm the album has for the majority of its runtime. But the real highlight is closing song “B4 3D”; a sort of 90s pop ballad consisting mainly of four chords on electric piano. Perhaps it’s just nostalgic for me, or maybe it’s the way it calms things down so well at the end of the album but there’s just something about the song which has me coming back over and over. Again it’s also a great combination of the two mindsets: carefully but simply constructed music with vocal melodies that seem simultaneously sincere and playful before the band comes together to sing its wonderful coda.
The album’s let down factor lies in that it climaxes too early. After upbeat rushes from earlier mentioned “Desert Island,” “Escapee,” and the fantastic centrepiece “Yr Go To,” (possibly one of the best songs in the band’s career) the subsequent attempts to catch your attention with sheer energy and big choruses don’t quite hit the mark in the same way. Apart from “Everything’s Blue” – which successfully seems to combine about four different song ideas – the songs just don’t have that same memorable charm without coming off as kind of forced. However, consistently being an upbeat adult isn’t exactly an easy thing to do and at least here the band show that they can mature without having to completely forget who they once were.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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