Processed Sugar: Architecture in Helsinki’s NOW + 4EVA

-1Australian pop outfit Architecture in Helsinki have come out with their fifth studio album, NOW + 4EVA, and if you are a teenager with a taste for twee, you are in good hands. If you are in the line of work that involves deciding what song gets to go with what commercial, then you will also be in good luck. Folksy single “Dream a Little Crazy” is a song that is waiting to be attached to the right ad about an amazing new low-calorie Greek yogurt.

The indie pop found in Helsinki’s latest effort streamlines emotions, whether they’re positive or negative, where the emotional state that the listener is put through is a steady one that doesn’t rock the boat. It pulses through the listener like a constant pumping of sugar, and NOW + 4EVA is exactly that: meant for consumption and immediate gratification, but besides fulfilling this one requirement, it serves no other purpose.

NOW + 4EVA is feel-good pop, and that doesn’t have to be deep – it doesn’t even have to hit the ballpark of political correctness to achieve its aim, as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” kindly reminded us. All it has to do is make us feel good while hearing it. But as mentioned before, “Dream a Little Crazy”, and album closer “Before Tomorrow”, are not pop songs – they are jingles. They are top-notch jingles, but as songs, they fall short. Group sing-along, upbeat piano keys, and the inclusion of a fun instrument like the French horn are main features in these songs, but try as hard as they might, they don’t lift the spirits up but rather ignite resistance. The sales pitch – “be happy” – just doesn’t land.

When the tracks don’t sound as though they were concocted to persuade us to sign up for something, they sound as though they were made at a level where kids and adolescents could enjoy them. “Boom (Forever)”, “When You Walk in the Room”, and “2 Time” walk the fine line between cute and juvenile. Pop is supposed to be universal, but there should be a target audience. The issue isn’t that music made for youngsters is inferior – in fact, that’s not at all the case – but that there’s a false perception of what a band with a name like Architecture in Helsinki is going to bring to the table.

On the band’s fifth try, however, they do much better with minimal numbers like “Echo” and “April”. There is a lot more exploration with robotic texture, such as Auto-Tuning Cameron Bird’s vocals, and ambient production. “Echo” is a gentle melody that’s given a touch of the quirky, while “April” is about missing love.

“I Might Survive” might be the song that best encapsulates Helsinki’s sincerity at capturing joy. With Kellie Sutherland’s lovely voice pairing up evenly with a glockenspiel solo, “I Might Survive” is, like any pop song worth its salt, cheerful without any questions. As one of their singles, “In the Future” is also a pleasant distraction.

NOW + 4EVA is a record that can feel uneven for those who like their pop a less processed, but it is always interesting to check up on Architecture in Helsinki’s latest efforts.