To put it in terms Architecture in Helsinki fans can appreciate, music consumers can generally be divided into two camps: those frustratingly picky prudes, and the weak-kneed whores. Prudes prefer their music to put in some work, and themselves to be wooed in novel ways; in other words, they like to play hard to get, and that’s why they listen to all that obscure ‘60s Brazilian Tropicalia b-sides that are literally hard to get. Then, god, the whores — they give up their affection at the first hint of pop melodicism and major chord synth sounds, preferring their lyrics of the bubblegum variety and their song structures predictable, swooning over anything that moves.
Aussie indie pop darlings Architecture in Helsinki have appealed to both of said types in their 10+ year history, but now seem set on foregoing subtly romancing the prudes, instead taking the path of least resistance to guilty pleasure status in their last two albums. And, evidently, San Francisco fans are more prudish than whorish, judging by the sparse crowd assembled at the Fillmore last night.
Shame, too, because AiH is a spectacle to behold live. Lead singer Cameron Bird came onstage looking like he had just stepped out of an '80s pop culture time capsule, with Weird Science-chic disheveled hair, non-night vision sunglasses and powder blue tuxedo jacket. His personality matched, as he routinely commanded our attention with flits of cartoonishly high-pitched yelping, as if he were trying out for a spot in a trippy Nickelodeon music video. He proved himself a chatty party-leader, too, offering golden nuggets of information about the band's body of work, including the story of three songs they made while squatting in a house here in the Mission after a U.S. tour in 2004, resulting in the lazy-afternoon instrumental track “Rendezvous; Potrero Hill,” revisited last night with minimalist charm, and the celebratory, multi-sectioned “It’s 5!” (both of which come from the 2005 landmark twee-core album In Case We Die), played here with whatever you’d call the opposite of minimalism. From that same album, they also played “Do the Whirlwind,” an ADD romp of a song, containing myriad songs within itself, all seamlessly stitched together consecutively.
That was the band’s m.o. until 2007’s Places Like This, when AiH seemed to take a turn for the tepid traditions of formal pop, peppered with a vague love for ‘80s pop (exemplified most plainly last night in “That Beep”). For their final song of the night, AiH played that album’s most mainstream-resonant single to date, “Heart it Races,” which also seems to epitomize the direction the band has taken over the last four years: keep it catchy, simple and quirky when it’s convenient. But more than anything, it’s an embarrassingly fun song — as many of these new tracks are — and had the devoted fans pogo-ing while Bird and co. sang shamelessly: “boom-dadadaboom-da-da.”
And what would this band be without the angelic voice and sentimental innocence of singer-keyboardist Kellie Sutherland? She took center stage a few times and wowed the Fillmore, particularly on the slo-mo synth number “W.O.W.,” which Bird explained was about dolphins (naturally), as Sutherland described a creature “walking on water” in the softest, sweetest way.
In sum, god I sound like a whore.
The old pop vets were preceded by the youthful, still-work-in-progress-sounding DOM, which has struck a chord in the critical community with a few quick-hitting releases in the last two years. Perhaps you’ve heard “Living in America,” in which lead singer Dom (just Dom, no last name necessary apparently) sings androgynously about the idea of “sexy,” in terms of Western lifestyle.
Their live set sounded a bit more surf-garage-rockin’ than the electro poppiness of their debut album Sun Bronzed Greek Gods. “Bochicha” was the purest example of that Wavves-like indifference to electro motif, kept lo-fi, fo-sho. “Burn Bridges” was the strongest of the bunch, with a delicious looping key riff and an occasional off-kilter drum fill that would get any slacker-core kid, like Dom, off the couch.
Photography by Misha Vladimirskiy