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Music Review: I’m From Barcelona – Who Killed Harry Houdini?

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Those who assume that Emanuel Lundgren gave up his childhood dream of becoming a magician because of an inability to enchant his audience couldn't be more wrong. He had merely picked the wrong medium.

In the summer of 2005 Lundgren gathered his friends for a soirée and recording session which resulted in the formation of Sweden’s own I’m From Barcelona. The now internationally-touring, critic-charming, toe-tapping, eclectic, and clearly European band released the fruit of their collaboration as their debut album Let Me Introduce My Friends. In October 2008 they followed up their success with the sophomore album Who Killed Harry Houdini?

As an avid walker (albeit by necessity in my post-college days of poverty), the music which accompanies my wanderings is naturally very important. So when Who Killed Harry Houdini? arrived in my mailbox it was with curious anticipation that I tapped in my ear buds and laced up my shoes for the trial walk through town. Before I knew it I was bobbing my head and getting dangerously close to skipping down the brick sidewalk in a manner more suited to someone half my age. When I heard the lines, “they can take me anywhere I want: I put my headphones on… I can walk around and sing along,” I found myself smirking at my fellow passers-by. How could I but laugh at how magically they had divined my situation?

In the album’s second track (also its single), “Paper Planes,” it becomes obvious that Emanuel Lundgren, the creative entropy behind the music, has a Midas-like ability to transform the commonplace, even absurd, things into priceless moments. It is surprisingly enchanting to hear that the, “big old man in his underpants plays the clarinet every night,” and that, "throwing paper planes to clear my head,” is a viable stress reliever. All of these golden images are layered upon a tune which is itself uncommonly cheery. Then he brings in an assortment of musicians to polish the piece who, with cooperative creativity, highlight and embellish the melody.

The advantage of having a band which boasts up to 28 members, is the ability to create an epic sound without the instruments overpowering the vocals. This is particularly impressive on “Mingus”. On this track the potentially overwhelmingly large backing chorus is tempered by the solid yet fresh baseline provided by the background musicians; two often warring entities sharing the spotlight to our very clear benefit.

In direct contrast to the bold resonance of “Mingus” is the preceding track “Gunhild” (featuring French pop star SoKo); a gentle, almost melancholy piece which showcases Emanuel Lundgren’s control over his naturally dynamic voice and his masterful poetic tendencies.

Even from my trial walk two things were very clear to me: first, this was not at all what I had expected from a relatively unknown band from Scandinavia, and second, Who Killed Harry Houdini? is the newest CD on my “let me recommend it to my friends” list. Contrary to my assumption that any band falling under the Europop label would tend toward unmusically beat driven disco music, I’m From Barcelona surprised and delighted me throughout the ten tracks. From the opening electronic crescendo of “Andy” to the closing measures of “Rufus,” the band produced a delicious and well-executed show.

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About Valerie Wierenga