Who Killed Harry Houdini? Mammoth-size rock band I’m From Barcelona try to answer that question on their second album (named after that particular question). Or, rather, they don’t. They just thought it would be a good title.
In any event, the question is irrelevant. I’m From Barcelona delivers another enjoyable record, even though it is considerably less happy and joy-filled than their first.
I’m From Barcelona broke out on the scene with its 2006 twee-pop debut, Let Me Introduce My Friends. And friends they have. Singer/songwriter Emanuel Lundgren leads the group, which had 29 members play on the band’s debut, a self-released EP made all in the name of fun. And none of the members of the Swedish group are from Barcelona (far as we know).
Let Me Introduce My Friends is a record that can simply and easily be described as a delight. After all, it is a (quality) twee record. Who Killed Harry Houdini? is also an enjoyable record but…the twee is gone.
Unlike its predecessor, Houdini has no songs about treehouses or chicken pox or oversleeping. Possibly, for just this reason (the lack of happy), Houdini is not as good a record as Friends. But to be fair, it is a good album that stands on its own.
Starting off a bit spookily, album opener “Andy” evokes Halloween imagery. These images are not a result of the lyrics but of the atmosphere of the song.
The song asks the Andy in question to join the already huge band: “Andy, you really want to go there?/They’re messing up your hair…/We could need someone like you in our band/Andy/No audition and you don’t have to pretend.” These lyrics display the classic silliness of I’m From Barcelona (so long as you translate “They’re messing up your hair” as a silly line in a serious-sounding song).
The happy that fans of I’m From Barcelona were so enamored with from the first album still exists in Houdini; it is just not as abundant.
“Paper Planes” sounds joyous with a cavalcade of voices singing (albeit about being surrounded by strangers). The song does not promise to take your money but rather dissects the art of “throwing paper planes to clear [one’s] head.” Sounds like therapy we could all use.
The somber side of the album shines on “Gunhild,” featuring vocals from French singer and actress Stéphanie Sokolinski, known in the music world as SoKo. A sweetly melancholy song, “Gunhild” is the first track in I’m From Barcelona’s catalog to really spotlight the sincerity in Lundgren’s kind voice. SoKo’s backing-into-lead vocals are a nice addition and play well alongside Lundgren’s vocals.
“Mingus” is an obvious album highlight with its bouncy use of the glockenspiel (a favorite instrument of the band).
On “Houdini,” there’s more darkness. Or at least, it sounds that way. To the undistinguishing ear, we hear “You’re like a demon!” when really, it is “You’re like Houdini!” Or maybe it is all a trick, and we cannot distinguish the truth any which way.
While the album is darker than I’m From Barcelona’s first, this does not detract from the record a great deal.
I’m From Barcelona is still sweet. But there is no need to brush your teeth.