By David Colburn
“Avant-pop”? A style of pop music with avant-garde (innovative, bizarre, unfamiliar) tendencies. Two sharp examples of the genre include “Do the Whirlwind” and “The Owls Go;” both are rife with random sounds and fragments of arrangements that interact in odd, exciting and infectious ways and both are early tracks courtesy of Architecture in Helsinki.
When one considers the band’s repetition and essence, strains of avant-pop should leap to the mind. Weird and refreshing rhythms should pound and pulsate and harmonies should bring bliss and distraction in the same brightly-colored bag.
Now consider Moment Bends, something is a bit different. Accessibility has always been a trait of the band, but many tracks baste in normalcy. Some songs can even be described as “standard retro-tinged pop music” when all is said and done. Aspects of the album initially pass by the listener’s attention span like bits of static and hazy radio memories.
“Desert Island” calmly sways in a slightly exotic dub-like soundscape; “Escapee” functions as another installment in the library of contemporary indie pop with its light and innocent poppy vocals and early 1980 influence. The first moment of true interest is found in “Contact High” as it brims with dour, synth-laden ambience, claustrophobic beats, and an unnerving falsetto.
Enter the static. None of the tracks are poor, in fact, they are all perfectly, perfectly adequate. Scattered moments of sonic intrigue keep the block floating far enough above the wave-crest to survive; the machine-like harmonies of “W.O.W.” and the choppy synthesizer explorataions of “Yr Go To” bring something to hold onto, even if the grip is loose and the mind wanders elsewhere.
Moment Bends plays to its namesake, as it bends from moments of average fare to piques of recalled greatness. “I Know Deep Down” strives in a quirky groove of looping, vibrant instruments and the previously-released “That Beep” provides one of the greatest bits of power-pop-fun found in the band’s catalogue. In fact, the general strength and momentum continues onward to the album’s ultimate conclusion with only slight stumbles: “Denial Style” is as quirky and infectious as one could hope, “Everything’s Blue” keeps everyone engaged, and “B4 3D” unveils fascinating lyricism to underscore the final moments; “When I found out that each and every one of you were dead/ Wrote a letter to the universe instead…”
Where does the work stand as the clock spins and the playlist updates? It is ultimately worth checking out. Moment Bends may not be great, especially when compared to many of Architecture in Helsinki’s earlier works, but enough moments attempt to reach grandeur that they slowly creep into the listener’s long-term musical memory. The album many not be the strongest example of the “avant-pop” genre, but it is not the weakest example of the pop genre by any means.