Tuesday, October 7, 2008

who killed harry houdini by i'm from barcelona

So, for better or worse, I'm back from vacation. Aiding in the transition back to reality, (a state of being which is proving to be highly overrated), is Who Killed Harry Houdini, (available October 16th), the sophomore album of my favorite 20+ piece Swedish stamp-collecting collective I'm From Barcelona. Welcome home, have some twee.

The hallmarks of I'm From Barcelona are still in place on their newest outing -clarinet solos, swelling choruses featuring enough back-up singers to form a football team, twee-esque musing on life, love, and inanimate objects. (This time it's, not tree houses but paper planes. Someone had a happy childhood!) However, when judged against their cotton-candy sweet debut Let Me Introduce My Friends, there's something missing. On the debut, bandleader and lead singer Emanuel Lundgren gathered 20+ of his best friends, all professionals in seemingly every field but music, for a glorified jam session. The result was a musical mad-cap romp where, many times, enthusiasm trumped ability. It was like listening to the soundtrack for trailer version of your life: all energy and highlights. Who Killed Harry Houdini features the same group of people, only after a tour around the world and over 100 shows, something has changed: these are no longer just people. They're musicians.

Throwing out the first album's high benchmark1, and accepting that the I'm From Barcelona cannon is big enough for ocasional bouts of melancholy2,one has to admit that Who Killed Harry Houdini is a solid album. Not a magical record (which is a shame, given the title), but certainly enjoyable. The main problem is it's the newly evolved band making the music, which many times translates to burying their resources. "Houdini," with its Beck-like vocals and screeching guitars, is something I'd dance to (or at least sway enthusiastically to) at any concert. But what's the point of having nearly thirty people on stage if you aren't going to utilize your man power for swelling, singalong choruses? Personally, I've always argued for gilding the lilly. Come on, I'm from Barcelona, you always managed to pull off that singing en masse better than cult-happy Polyphonic Spree.

Thank goodness there are still moments that prove that the baby hasn't completely been thrown out with the bath water3. Songs like "Mingus" and the single-ready "Paper Planes" still have a light sprinkle of the old I'm From Barcelona, twee x20 (or rather twenty-eight if one is to believe the liner notes) charm - it's just on Who Killed Harry Houdini, they've pulled back a bit and matured. No, really, what's the point of restraint when you're seven times larger than the average indie rock outfit, capable of seven times4 the enthusiasm and charm? So close, and yet still slightly unfullfilling, Who Killed Harry Houdini is like ordering a diet coke with your Double Double and fries. I wanted the chocolate shake.

1. ...which those critical readers out there will notice I'm incapable of doing.
2.With all those members it better be!
3. You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby.
4.One will also notice none of the math in this post actually checks out.

mp3: "Robots Sing I'm From Barcelona" by I'm From Barcelona (remix by Adventure Kid)
mp3: "Music Killed Me (Adventure Kid Remix)" by I'm From Barcelona

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