Architecture in Helsinki

NOW + 4EVA

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After the release of their return-to-form album Moment Bends in 2011, Architecture in Helsinki seemed set up to make another album that skillfully blended indie pop quirk with synth pop slickness topped off with some seriously bouncy beats. Unfortunately, their 2014 album NOW + 4EVA is a mostly overcooked mess that's too slick by half and stuffed with lots of bad ideas, clich├ęd sounds, and songs that fail to make much of a positive impression. There are some high points that might remind listeners why they liked the band in the first place, like the insistent groover "In the Future," which kicks the album off in fine style, and the shiny disco empowerment jam "I Might Survive." The electro-pop cover of the Jackie DeShannon folk-pop classic "When You Walk in the Room" is also very nice, showing off Kellie Sutherland's clear-as-a-bell vocals. The Northern soul meets bubblegum stomper "Before Tomorrow" is another track that shows how the band can succeed by blending styles into a cute and spunky mix that's as colorful and messy as the album's cover image. That makes for enough good songs for an EP, but the rest is less than inspiring. The absolute low point of the album, and the band's career, is the lunkheaded '90s-influenced "Dream a Little Crazy," which sounds like a deep cut, not a hit, from a tropical Smash Mouth or a less hip-hop Sugar Ray. Or the New Radicals if they were brainless instead of brilliant. Nothing else is quite that embarrassing on the album, but there are moments when you wonder just how the band got from its early recordings to sounding like a blander version of HAIM ("[Boom] 4EVA") or a tuneless Ace of Base ("U Tell Me"). It's not clear that the world really needs an update of Animotion ("2 Time") or an indie pop Backstreet Boys (the incredibly lame ballad "April"). Maybe it does, but AIH clearly aren't the band to make it work. NOW + 4EVA feels like the work of a band adrift and, apart from a couple of glimmers of hope, out of good ideas. Between the airless production, the clunky arrangements, and the songs that are bereft of hooks, the album is their worst to date by far and hopefully signals either the end of the road, or rock bottom. Maybe they can get it together and recover, then go back to making quirky, fun albums and leave the machine-stamped and joyless sounds to the corporate pop big names. Until then, avoid this album like it was pop kryptonite.

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