There are any number of pitfalls for bands that load themselves down with members. The more obvious problems include a scarcity of space and money to split while touring together, and lord knows it’s not easy fitting a double-digit amount of band members on a stage. But these issues are well compensated by the fact that your band is definitely going to get at least a little bit of attention, if only for sheer mass, and ten or more people with instruments can make a pretty powerful noise. I’m From Barcelona, who have had as many as 29 members at a time, appear to be the exception to that rule. The band’s sophomore outing, Who Killed Harry Houdini, scales pretty dramatically back in terms of sound, if not in terms of band membership.
The idea of a band with a population like I’m From Barcelona turning in a relatively subdued album is a surprising, almost silly idea. Of course, it’s not as though bands with a surplus of members are required to turn in nothing but grand and bombastic material, but what’s the point in lugging around an extra car or two’s worth of musicians if they aren’t going to add much of anything?
But this unanticipated decision from I’m From Barcelona would be immediately forgivable if Who Killed Harry Houdini were not such a boring album instrumentally, melodically, and any other musical adverb you care to add. You won’t hate it, because in order to hate an album, the album in question needs to be capable of working up some sort of meaningful emotion in the listener. Likely, you’ll walk away from it feeling the same as you would had you just ate a disappointing turkey sandwich.
To reiterate, Who Killed Harry Houdini is not incompetent or inane or devoid of artistic intent. Actually, incompetence would be preferable. It’s more fun to listen to. Who Killed Harry Houdini exemplifies the banality of competence. It’s as though I’m From Barcelona found a twee guidebook and followed it to the letter. Consequently, every xylophone is expected, every sing-a-long moment completely and utterly predictable.
And while we’re on the subject, I’m From Barcelona could stand to subtract about one harmony-less full band sing-a-long moment from each song. This technique’s overuse is about as overtly as the band is willing to acknowledge their high population, because it certainly does not show up otherwise in the arrangements. Probably the most inventive instrumental idea arrives fairly early into the album on “Paper Planes,” when bandleader, Emanuel Lundgren, sings “…he plays the clarinet every night,” only to be followed by a clarinet mimicking the melody. It’s playful and affectively clever. Largely though, the band simply looms in the background, stepping forward very rarely to make themselves known as a unit. Even “Rufus,” which sounds like it is intended to be the album’s big epic moment, feels half-hearted, utilizing tempo changes as a means of suggesting a level of scope that is unfortunately absent.
Again, I’m From Barcelona have a right to tone things down a bit, but they should do so in the service of an interesting collection of songs. Though this might be an inartistic recommendation, but if the songs just aren’t there, as is the case on Who Killed Harry Houdini, then maybe dressing the songs up a bit isn’t the worst idea in the world.