Building pop from the ground up

Cameron Bird, lead singer of Australian band Architecture in Helsinki, explains why place is so important to his music and pop’s ultimate power. His band will headline a concert at Macalester College on Tuesday evening.

Joseph Kleinschmidt


What: Architecture in Helsinki with Dom and LoFiFnk

Where: Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul

When: 7p.m., Tuesday

Cost: $5 for college students, $10 for general public

The moniker for Cameron BirdâÄôs pop collective, Architecture in Helsinki, is inherently deceiving. The five Australians are neither architecture nor are they Finnish. When the band played in Helsinki for the first time in 2007, local interviewers were understandably perplexed. Oddly, the bandâÄôs music reflects none of the connotations their name implies.

Known for their simple pop-oriented arrangements, the bandâÄôs highly contagious hooks have been featured in video games and cell phone advertisements, a testament to BirdâÄôs direct songwriting. And though the band formed out of an art school in 2000, none of its members are trained musicians.

âÄúI have no idea of any notes,âÄù Bird said. âÄúIâÄôve only recently learned the strings to play the guitar.âÄù

But that level of immediacy has always contributed to Architecture in HelsinkiâÄôs childlike energy. While theyâÄôre not master composers by any stretch, each member contributes to a patchwork of blissful melody on any given song. Glockenspiels, synthesizers and handclaps accompany instruments normally reserved for marching bands âÄî trumpets, tubas, trombones, saxophones and clarinets. Architecture in Helsinki defies any singular notion of âÄúpopâÄù with grand orchestration.

âÄúI think weâÄôre more about ideas than anything,âÄù Bird said. âÄúI would consider myself an artist before I would consider myself a musician.âÄù

As pretentious as that may sound, BirdâÄôs words own up to the fact that Architecture in Helsinki is not composing BeethovenâÄôs Fifth Symphony. All symphonies aside, the Australian band constructs energetic, rich melodies without any delusions of grandeur. Past albums like âÄúPlaces Like ThisâÄú and âÄúIn Case We DieâÄú encapsulate a spirit of liveliness that other bands like Dr. Dog, The Very Best, Cut Copy and YACHT have either covered or remixed.

With this yearâÄôs release of âÄúMoment Bends,âÄù Bird and crew may have gone astray from these initial objectives. Experimenting with less and less, the synthesizer-laden new album delivers similar levels of energy with an inescapable pastiche of âÄô80s influence.

âÄúWe wanted to try and make a really succinct, streamlined and minimal pop record,âÄù Bird said.

Architecture in Helsinki may have succeeded in this respect, but they have lost all of the addictive buoyancy that contemporaries like Los Campesinos! and The Polyphonic Spree incorporate so well. The new album loses the infantile sense of wonder on tracks like âÄúNeverevereverdidâÄú and âÄúHeart it RacesâÄú in hopes of making a classic pop record.

âÄúA lot of songs are about place and sense of place âÄî a habitat and where you are,âÄù Bird said.

If anythingâÄôs to blame for the underwhelming âÄúMoment Bends,âÄù it may be BirdâÄôs recent move to New York. Even with the stripped down, synthesizer-pop of the new album, Architecture in Helsinki still sits at the forefront of experimental pop. Bird and crew never fall into easy categorization. Blending infectious hooks with multilayered instrumentation, the band accomplishes popâÄôs primary goal.

âÄúI think perfect pop songs transcend the fact that they are songs and they become an experience or something you can live your life through,âÄù Bird said.

BirdâÄôs consciousness of music as art should enable another apotheosis for Architecture in Helsinki if they can ever find their way out of Finland.