Who Killed Harry Houdini?

Release Date: 10.14.08

Capturing the feeling of childhood optimism is an elusive task for a band. Trying to be ironic by trying to act adolescent comes off more often as desperate than clever. However, when the process occurs naturally, the product can result in something as compelling as I'm From Barcelona's debut LP Let Me Introduce My Friends – an album whose life-affirming messages are so inspirational and participatory that you feel apart of the 30-person super group. However, therein lies the dichotomy between the debut and their sophomore release, Who Killed Harry Houdini?: the former demands our inclusion, and the latter leaves us out. Everything about I'm From Barcelona's buoyant spirit is eschewed on their latest outing. Opener "Andy" forewarns in the dreariest of ways, ushering us into a world of caution and suspicion – "do you really want to do this," asks front man Emanuel Lundgren. Even as they dryly announce, "we could use someone like you in our band," the offer sounds vain and the answer is abundantly clear: no. The drudge experienced here is not limited to "Andy" rather the whole album is peppered in it. "Music Killed Me", truly I'm From Barcelona's nadir, culminates into a neurosis as the bands newly acquired fatalistic attitude comes full-circle as we reach "Mingus": "Will I always have a broken heart?"

It is difficult to discern where I'm From Barcelona is coming from on Houdini. They don't sound grand or monumental. This is the sound of a smaller band making a mediocre pop record. Aspects of their old-selves are appropriated, but either in failed and meaningless ways. Attempts to personify/glorify the inanimate/mundane end up insipid and slow ("Headphones"). Attempts to become inspirational are lost without a message to be delivered ("Paper Planes"). And excitability doesn't translate when singing about a broken heart. Disappointed realizations prevail and optimism shrinks on Houdini. This is not to say their change-of-direction flops entirely. Houdini's shining moment comes with the album's stunning centerpiece "Gunhild"; a ballad where pronounced piano and FX mush reveal Lundgren's accomplished song-craft. Even the brief epilogue of "Music Killed Me" is simple and elegant. Their success comes with this minimalism. Yet these accomplishments are fleeting as the albums second half is as flawed as the first. "Ophelia" is innocuous and unexciting while "Houdini" over-compensates with distorted guitars devolving into a screaming catharsis ("you're like a demon!").

Houdini renders itself a disappointment when considering I'm From Barcelona's roaring promise. Their initial appeal – sing-a-longs, jubilant orchestral movements, sanguine lyrics – is lost in lieu of an unexceptional aesthetic. By the time album closer "Rufus" arrives, the closest thing they come to recreating their old sound, Houdini has lost us for good. Too much of the album makes I'm From Barcelona sound like they're from Gothenburg (see: the dubious art-noir album cover). With a band of 30 willing and excitable Swedes at his disposal, it's an unfortunate omission that Lundgren did not utilize all their voices.

I'm From Barcelona

Who Killed Harry Houdini?