[14 October 2008]
This is what I’m from Barcelona is known for:
1. For being from Sweden, not Spain
2. For having a lot of members
3. For their catchy pop songs from 2006’s debut Let Me Introduce My Friends
What was more impressive about that album was the way so many musicians seemed folded into a sound not much bigger than Boy Least Likely To. And, yeah, twee’s moment in the sun faded by late ’06, but it’s coming back. Oh, it’s on its way back. (Did you hear “I Box Up All the Butterflies” yet?) So again on cue, Jonkoping, Sweden, churns out all its under-30s for part two.
I’m from Barcelona’s website lists 28 members, including (by the looks of it) twins in identical glasses but different hairstyles. But ten of those just sing, three play saxophone, and though there are a few orchestral flourishes on the instrument list (mandolin, accordion), the group’s really a good-size orchestral indie group with a substantial backup chorus. No need to harp on the numbers, though, despite what misgivings you may have at the very thought of almost thirty hipsters making joyous, ironic twee-pop together. That’s because I’m from Barcelona yields submissively to its main man, Emanuel Lundgren, and his creative vision. This was the case for Let Me Introduce My Friends, too—Lundgren’s doing the introducing, and these are Lundgren songs we’re singing along to. But if Lundgren still believes the words with which he ends the album, that “In my heart, I’m still a kid”, one thing’s sure: songwriting-wise, he’s all grown up.
The group uses the heft of its many performers to create this warm, inviting wash of sound—not quite shoegaze, but certainly enveloping. Album opener “Andy” exemplifies the sound, only really hinting at the mass-humanity aspect of the group on the sing-together refrain. The rest of the time, Lundgren’s front and centre, the rest of the instruments flattened into the background. The “me and my friends” aspect of the project continues, you see. (It’s the one thing you sometimes wish for—more evidence of the obvious power and texture all those musicians could, together, create.)
At 36 minutes, Who Killed Harry Houdini is a succinct second chapter in this altogether charming band’s growing oeuvre. Five of the ten tracks clock in at less than three minutes, too, which allows Lundgren room for a seven minute finale, and a neat songwriting trick. What I’m from Barcelona have almost perfected, on this record, is the extended coda—that seismic shift, three minutes into a four minute song, in which peace envelops everything. The band does this so well. “Music Killed Me” is exemplary, an otherwise straightforward innocenct singalong that becomes soulful piano ballad, as Lundgren sings, in what feels like a true ending, “If you’re gonna kill me / Wait until tomorrow / ’Cos I kinda like it down here”.
Throughout, whether on longer or shorter tracks, the joie de vivre that has always been so appealing about the group coats everything. It’s charming when, on “Rufus”, they all start clapping together. It’s charming when, as the chorus starts and they all sing together, half of them forget to keep clapping. It’s even charming when, after just a few bars, they modulate a whole tone up. Is it tongue in cheek? I don’t think so; with this band it’s easy to just go with it.
Shiny pieces of melody peek out from the lush pop textures the band’s created all through Who Killed Harry Houdini. In fact, the album keeps up songwriting quality at a surprisingly consistent level, taking a collective breath before barrelling into a series of fine tunes to close. From “Ophelia”’s awkward keyboard switches to the expansive, syncopated refrain of “Little Ghost”, this section of the disc feels like a nostalgic, triumphant encore. It’s not the last one this band will have demanded of them.