Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

On ‘Living Thing,’ PBJ look for a stranger sound

Peter Bjorn and John

“Living Thing”  

(2009; Almost Gold)


“Living Thing” is confounding.

Its first track, “The Feeling,” opens on a skeletal rhythm of only a few drum hits and a vocal melody that Peter Morén doesn’t deliver with a great deal of confidence, and things only get stranger from there. Given that Peter Bjorn and John garnered international attention on the strengths of “Young Folks,” which even conquered American rock radio in 2007, it’s an off-putting reintroduction. It’s not totally unpredictable, though; their third album, “Writer’s Block,” saw the band take on Western indie pop and almost completely nail it. Since then, Morén tried his hand at singer-songwritering and the band released an album of instrumentals to little fanfare.  

 However, “Living Thing” is still a major departure, even for a band as eclectic as this one, and its payoffs are nowhere near as immediate.   More than anything else, it’s the group’s newfound love of skittering electro-rap beats that shifts the band’s sound. “Just The Past” rides a slow-moving kick-snare rhythm that almost turns it into a reverbed-out Junior Boys song. “I’m Losing My Mind” builds off of several off-beat bell hits, a snare, and almost nothing else, and the album’s title track is similar. This approach recalls Bjorn Yttling’s production work on Lykke Li’s “Youth Novels,” albeit in a much more abrasive and jarring manner. “Nothing to Worry About” is the most successful of these, and its obnoxious children’s choir hook, handclaps and quasi-Pharrell percussion could work wonders for anyone bold enough to rap over it on their next mixtape.  

Where “Writer’s Block” was melancholic pop that exuded confidence and sounded ready to take on the world, “Living Thing” is withdrawn when it isn’t trying to be threatening. “Call it lack of inspiration, resignation, stupid or mature,” Morén sings on “Stay This Way,” and Yttling and John Ericksson’s harmonies are stuck aching along between his lines. Titles like “I’m Losing My Mind” and “It Don’t Move Me” communicate their songs’ sentiments almost totally. But there’s also “Lay It Down,” which builds a shout-along chorus out-of “Hey, shut the fuck up, boy! You are starting to piss me off!” for three-and-a-half fantastic minutes of fairly straightforward sexual inadequacy. Only “Blue Period Picasso” recalls the band’s shimmering widescreen pop, sounding grandiose even with its deliberately awkward harmonies and minimal arrangement.  

Peter Bjorn and John are more than anything else a pop-band, and nothing about “Living Thing” plays to their strengths. Its profanity will keep the best song on the album from duplicating “Young Folks”‘s commercial success, and the album as a whole, though at times rewarding, is often as strange and initially off-putting as “808s and Heartbreak.” No wonder Kanye West got to premiere “Nothing To Worry About” in January, e-shouting “SHIT IS DOPE!!   DRUMS ARE CRAZY AND I LIKE THE KIDS ON THE HOOK.” Like “808s,” however, there might be more going on here than there appears to be. Be patient with it.

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