It's a problem every precocious, cutesy twee band eventually faces: How do you grow up and put away the proverbial glockenspiel? Belle and Sebastian went 1970s AM gold, Los Campesinos! developed a gothically morbid streak. Throughout Architecture in Helsinki's career, they've tried to grow into an adult voice, with some pubescent cracks and hiccups along the way. Their first two albums had the feel of clever kids run riot in the band room after school, fooling around on French horn and whatever else was around. Their third saw them streamlining things, dropping a couple of members and replacing much of the studiously charted acoustic ruckus with synthetic instrumentation. Moment Bends finds them even further along that path, moving from the gleefully transparent clutter of their early albums to a more highly polished pop sound.
Moment Bends is also oddly indebted to the sonic palette of the lite-FM 80s. Synths are dialed into glassy pads, ersatz pan flutes, and gentle fluttering arpeggios. Several songs feel like echoes of specific new wave/age hits, even, although everything is absorbed thoroughly enough as to not be intentional "spot-the-reference" nods so much as a fully digested overall sound.
Sometimes, it works. "Escapee" is an energetic cut, with swinging synths standing in for ska horns. "Yr Go To" bops along with a supremely catchy, sing-song cadence. "Everything's Blue" begins as a bass-and-drums disco strut with layered vocals (falsetto, female, and bass) and vamping guitar, then flowers into a chorus with twinkling synths and a briefly materializing gospel choir. "Sleeptalkin'" similarly alternates between easy, free-falling guitar strum and glossy chorus.
Other times, it's hard to tell if the band takes it too far. "W.O.W", which here stands not for online orc conquests but for "walking on water," has Sutherland yearning for a metaphysical love to be made corporeal over softly lapping synths that might be a little too close to Enya waters for some fans.
Then there's the story told by frontman Cameron Bird's literal voice, which expanded from whimpering and whispering on the band's first two albums to include a playful, at times libidinous, almost fully grown growl on Places Like This. There's little of that roar on this album, but an even more notable retreat is Bird's increasing reliance on heavily filtered and processed vocal effects.
This is most pronounced on lead single "Contact High". Bird's breathy falsetto verses sound normal enough, but they turn into that odd, otherly voice of the Auto-Tuned on the chorus, singing, "I've got nothing to hide," with what might be the slightest smirk, sometimes tripled by an octave-lowered bass voice, sounding in the main like nothing so much as Owl City. And yet, it's a terrific pop song, and the chorus, for all its strange sheen, is an undeniable pleasure.
It's a shame the rest of Moment Bends isn't consistently so successful. Much of it just sounds listless compared to the excitement of the band's previous albums, and the last third of the album begins to seriously drag. Places Like This proved that Architecture in Helsinki could grow out of their early sound without growing tame, that they could change their voice but keep their charm; Moment Bends too often finds them losing one, the other, or both.— Eric Grandy, April 4, 2011
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