Architecture in Helsinki delivers an euphoric show despite monotonous album

Those who laced up their dancing shoes Thursday night were treated to a some quality boogying at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Catchy licks and infectious giggles of dance pop group Architecture in Helsinki soon had even the most peripheral head bobbers twitching their toes and grabbing a sweetheart. Indeed, there is a quality about the band’s sound that inspires you to move: their ecstatic riffs spring from their instruments to lead you by your fingertips, while their pop-y percussion progressions radiate like seismic heartbeats through the dance floor to rattle your feet. 

Openers Hooray For Earth set the stage for an energetic night as they serenaded the crowd with soul-squeezing tracks off of their debut album True Loves. Foggy baselines and subdued croonings sent attendees down a synchronized retread of past loves, summer flames in the sprawling nostalgic landfill piled with nameless exes. True Loves is truly enchanting, but its magic was muffled by Hooray For Earth’s vanilla performance: the real fiesta began when the headliners took the stage in their oxford button-ups, low riding jeans and bug-eyed plastic glasses.

The Aussie quintet is riding the momentum of their latest album, Moment Bends, across three continents on their Australian, North American and European tour. Four years in the making, Moment Bends is the band’s first LP release since 2007’s Places Like This, yet somehow the album feels much more like a regression than a maturation of their signature dance pop sound. A wide array of instruments including glockenspiel and saxophone revolve around the hub of synthesizer and drum machine. However, their multi-instrumental array often results in disjointed melodic trajectories that seem unsubstantiated by the underlying beats, giving the holistic sound a stripped-down, skeletally mechanic quality.

Architecture in Helsinki makes a striking departure from their finely orchestrated, Chris Coady-produced album Places Like This. Moment Bends is noticeably less honed and dips repeatedly into the same bag of tricks. Yet despite its monotonous composition, their live performance of the album delivered a visceral experience of intoxicating sound, a “Contact High” of sorts, enticing their audience not with the allure of honed musicianship, but with the rousing elation of a sonic amphetamine that just feels so damn good.

The compact layout of The Great American Music Hall joined together artists and audience — the stage was not elevated and there was no photo pit – amplified the intimacy of the night’s performance. Indeed, the Melbourne-based ensemble seemed to hold a tender affection for San Francisco, “[their] spiritual hometown,” as front man Cameron Bird slurred into the mike to a chorus of hometown pride.

That and their perplexing name sets up the band as an intriguing collection of incongruency: their press release for the new record presents their sound as “equal parts Italia ’82, California ’79 and Melbourne 2011.” Even their music is strangely reminiscent of unlike bands; at times it recalls the hollow gloom of New Order, while at others evokes the unshakable catchiness of Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head.

It is this displaceable ability that enables the band to yoke together eras and genres, making their sound – and charm – simultaneously traditional and modern. Moment Bends’ relentless upbeat positivity is at times overwhelming when blasted from a car stereo or enlisted as supplementary lounging music, but in the atmosphere of a live performance, it provides the perfect soundtrack for a euphoric love fest. Architecture for Helsinki makes adults party like kids again, makes all of us feel like we lived through the eighties (and still had the wardrobe to prove it), and intoxicates us to the point where music and drugs seem like indistinguishable siblings.

— Belinda Gu