Who Killed Harry Houdini?
Andrew Vice | Plano, TX | 10/15/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Imagine it's your birthday. A chocolate cake is placed before you, candles aflutter and your tongue salivating in anticipation of that chocolately goodness. You cut in to the cake, only to find that there is no chocolate! The cake is vanilla! The cake is a lie! The chocolate was just on the outside, building up anticipation for a landslide of dark brown heaven. In consolation, the cake is pretty good, but it just isn't chocolate, dammit. That, my friends, is "Who Killed Harry Houdini?" the sophomore LP by I'm From Barcelona, the famously non-Barcelonian supergroup boasting some thirty people. I should just end the review right here, but I'll be kind and expand further.
Anyone that knows IFB knows the band for their absurdly catchy debut, which held a baker's dozen great tracks. And while their debut did in fact have some balladish material on it, the reality is that the majority was brilliant pop, like an injection of dopamine straight into the pleasure center of the brain. Cut to the highly anticipated release of their sophomore album, and I'm hankering for another fix of white-hot happy drug, and what do I get but an inverted IFB album, sporting a heavy load of slowburners and only a few crystalline rocks of musical crack. Imagine my shock and initial disappointment, like a junkie who just spent his last ten on some sweet sweet coke only to find he's snorting Sweet 'n Low. But, the upside is that it turns out the music is good, almost like Emanuel Lundgren thought it would be funny to kick his fans in the proverbial balls, only to have them discover they actually enjoy a good kick in the groin every once in a while.
Tracks like "Paper Planes," "Headphones," "Mingus," and "Ophelia" are characteristic IFB pop, with "Paper Planes" standing out as an album highlight and possibly even Lundgren's best song to date. The rest of the album is quite solid and very new for the band, just don't expect it to be like their debut, or you'll be in for some seriously haggard withdrawal."
Paper planes to clear my head
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 10/16/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The name of this band is kind of deceptive. I'm From Barcelona is not from Barcelona (or anywhere else in Spain). It's not even a "I."
Utimately, who cares? This Swedish band from Jönköping -- who have at least thirty members -- haven't lost their twinkly charm in their second full-length album, the obliquely-named "Who Killed Harry Houdini?" But they've changed their sound dramatically as well -- they've merged their colourful, trippy sensibilities with a more stretched-out, mournful sound, creating a wistfully bittersweet epic brand of pop music.
It opens with a sweep of mournful synth, piano and bells. The vast band chorale intones, "Aaaaaaannnnndy.... Aaaaaaaaannndy..." several times, before Emanuel Lundgren starts asking softly, "Andy, you really wanna do this?/You're endin' up in showbiz/You really wanna go?" As the chorale swells again, he adds, "Andy, you really wanna go there?/They're messin' up your hair... We could use someone like you in our band, Aaaaaaaanndeeeeee/No addition, and you don't have to pretend..."
That song is enough to convince you that I'm From Barcelona has taken on a newly bittersweet sound. Apparently the band is aware of that, because the next two songs are practically a musical pat on the back -- a colourful, sunny pop tune that talks about a clarinet-playing man "in his underpants," and a tinkly melody that feels like a warm late-spring breeze. It feels like "Don't worry, we're still fun -- we're just trying new stuff."
That nostalgia trip ends with the wavering "Music Killed Me," a swirl of epic mellotron and wistful reminiscences, followed by a string of equally unusual pop. Warm'n'fuzzy ambient ballads, delightfully elusive pop melodies, delightfully dark indiepop that doesn't succeed in being hard-edged ("You're like a demon/no one else would believe me/but I know the things you do!"), wind-chime filled tinkly ballads, and two last pop tunes that deftly mingle the sprightly pop with a more epic sound.
I'm From Barcelona (much like the "Fawlty Towers" character that cheerfully announced "I am from Barcelona!") is difficult not to love despite their vast size and sometimes twee sound. And frankly put, infusing all that colour and sparkle with a bit of exuberant darkness and mournfulness only enhances their original sound -- sort of like how bright colours look even brighter next to black. And surprisingly, they are capable of intertwining and alternating those sounds.
Having thirty-plus people all playing instruments means that I'm From Barcelona has a lot of musical depth. The more sprightly tunes have nimble tangles of violin, drums and plucked guitar, with colourful threads of clarinet, flutes and occasionally a xylophone. And the less sunny songs are full of plaintive piano, strings and epic expanses of dark trembling synth, with a lesser array of additional instruments -- you can hear some bells, thick mats of guitar, and blurry static.
Problem? Rarely do the two styles meet. The two sounds start intertwining in the last few songs, but the most successful fusion has to be the semi-titular track, "Houdini." It's a devilishly mischievous, wildly danceable song that revels in its drawling vocals and catchy melody.
Lundgren adds a lot to that brilliant instrumentation and lyrics -- his boyish voice runs smoothly over the songs, even when he's wailing "You're like a demon!" over and over, although the chorale adds a lot of atmosphere. And his songs are beautifully whimsical little concoctions -- one song is from a ghost's point of view ("I hope you won't leave me/I only wanna be your friend/I know you can't see me/I'm happy if you could pretend..."), while others beg a guy to join your band, sing wistfully of a boy who "doesn't believe in joy," and a girl named Ophelia who can't afford to fix one of her cars.
"Who Killed Harry Houdini" weaves some sadder moments into I'm From Barcelona's upbeat music, and while it gives the album a mildly split personality, it makes both styles all the more vivid."