I’m From Barcelona
Who Killed Harry Houdini?
3.5 of 5 Stars
After all the hype generated by British rapper M.I.A.’s hit single, it seemed as if the world couldn’t stomach any more talk of paper planes. And yet, the first single off I’m From Barcelona’s new album, Who Killed Harry Houdini?, is none other than “Paper Planes.” Although frontman Emanuel Lundgren is referring to a much more literal plane than M.I.A.’s metaphorical message, it still feels a little too soon to be pulling out the printer paper again. Fortunately, the rest of the album forgets the flying paper and moves on to some crazy, creative subjects.
The second album, following in the footsteps of the band’s 2006 debut Let Me Introduce My Friends, produces sing-a-long-worthy, toe-tap-inducing, indie anthems. It’s an accessible indie sound with pop inflected melodies. The tracks leap from indie rock to experimental to standard pop and back, but the constant that holds it all together is the band’s trademark playful, childlike vibe. This ethos is especially evident on Who Killed Harry Houdini?. The songs focus on magic and enigma from a very childlike perspective. This fantasyland is created lyrically and supported by the happy-go-lucky melodies and steady beats that lend an endearing quality to the album.
Beginning with “Andy,” a song (oddly enough) about a boy in a band who is ambivalent about the world of showbiz, and ending with “Rufus,” a three-part dynamic piece about a ten-foot silver Labrador, the album sounds like a crazy dream sequence. In the aforementioned “Paper Planes,” Lundgren throws paper planes to clear his mind in a room full of strangers. This escapist sentiment is echoed in “Headphones,” in which Lundgren rejoices, “I put my records on / you can shake your head and turn around … / now I’m gone / with my head in the clouds / and the songs they’re just dancing around.”
These themes of liberation and nostalgia are backed by an eclectic mix of instruments and choral arrangements. The band, at 20-plus members, has everything from the usual guitar, drums and keyboard combination to accordion and mandolin. The credit list is almost laughable: “Marcus Carlholt: vocals and costumes; Martin Alfredsson: synthesizers and glockenspiel; Johan Viking: instrument: ?.” It reads more like a musically inclined co-op roster than a band line-up.
“Gunhild” features French singer Soko, and serves as the one true ballad on the album. Using experimental sounds, sustained synth strings and sparse piano, Soko and Lundgren plead “I know that you are hiding in there can I let you out? / and if I let you out is it OK if I let you out?” It’s a simple song with honest emotion, and one of the most engaging on the album.
And as for those Scandinavian names, it’s obvious the band name is a fallacy. I’m From Barcelona is not from northeastern Spain, but rather from Jonkoping, a small industrial town in Sweden. They join fellow Swedes Lykke Li, Ingrid Michelson, The Cardigans and, yes, ABBA with their blend of indie pop, quirky personality and an overall happy-go-lucky sound. With Who Killed Harry Houdini?, I’m From Barcelona shares influences from its national musical landscape and delivers a feel good, fantastical album.