After an innovative debut album of overwhelming critical praise, a band can go one of two ways to avoid the Sophomore Slump. The band can take the high road and continue with the formula that made their first album so successful, such as on the Strokes’ Room On Fire. But then that band runs the risk of no longer being in the forefront of a budding sound, losing their hip quality and getting made fun of all the time like the Strokes. Or a band can drive on the other side of the high road, add the sitar to their sound and then get made fun of for a different reason.
On In Case We Die, Architecture in Helsinki’s follow up to the critically adored Fingers Crossed, the band chooses the sitar approach. In fact, the sitar appears on 11 of the 12 songs on the album, along with the theremin, melodica, bassoon, “hand and power tools” and pretty much every other object in our world that can create a sound when manipulated the right way. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot to make fun of concerning Architecture in Helsinki with respect to this album. Unless you’re Interpol, there really is no way of getting around the Sophomore Slump.
The shame of it all is that Architecture in Helsinki have the songwriting talent to create their own Blueberry Boat; the band executes energetic, stylized hooks and are able to effortlessly jump from one musical piece to the next while retaining the childish musical world they have constructed. They are simply too content with basking in their ability to use lots of kooky instruments. In fact, their liner notes contain what is referred to as figure 2.1, a graph of sorts indicating which of the 41 kooky instruments are used on each song. What’s more, each singer on the album has adopted Belle and Sebastian’s vocal delivery, and the attempt at preciousness becomes grating even by the third song.
But for all the cringe-worthy moments, In Case We Die certainly has its triumphs. The album opener, “Neverevereverdid,” represents the excitement and frustration that resonate throughout most of the album. The song begins on a very inauspicious note, with nothing but church bells chiming, exactly the same way that John Lennon’s masterpiece Plastic Ono Band began.
However, Architecture in Helsinki force you to forget this travesty right after with the inclusion of an indelible, haunting aria which is immaculately backed by full orchestration. The sound that this segment creates is marvelous; you almost wish it would never end. But, like everything else in life, it eventually does, and you are left with the main part of the song. Oddly enough, Architecture Helsinki seems to drown an otherwise savory hook with copious kooky instruments in an arrangement devoid of any rhythm or momentum.
These confusions and frustrations continue on for the rest of the album and in the end, you really can’t help but wonder, was the sitar not enough?