Release Date: Mar 31, 2009
Record label: Almost Gold
Genre(s): Rock, Pop
You can hear it in Peter's vocals, in the heart-rending lyrics, in the heartbreak beats, and in the emotionally electric songs. The only song with any hope of replicating a fraction of "Young Folks"' success could be the first single, "Nothing to Worry About," which instead of whistling has children's voices in the naggingly catchy chorus as the hook. There are plenty of songs that do deliver the expected pop hooks and emotional weight, though.
Peter Bjorn and John’s fifth album is, in turns, stubborn, difficult, and revelatory. Opening with “The Feeling,” a skeletal arrangement offers singer/guitarist Peter Moren detachedly delivering a deadpan vocal over a bombastic kick bass, programmed handclaps, and a tinkering one-note synth line. It seems both an obvious and intentional about face from 2006’s ubiquitous “Young Folks,” the song the trio, now ten years strong into their career, earned worldwide popularity with.
Swedish trio moves into the future via the ’80s.
The trio best known for 2006’s ubiquitous anthem ”Young Folks” remains shamelessly earnest adorable. It may rot your teeth, but it’s an aesthetic they embrace without irony: Though the title track jacks its chorus from ELO’s 1976 symphonic-cheese classic ”Livin’ Thing,” the music is pure featherweight, percussion-driven synth-pop. That shtick eventually wears thin on Living Thing, but on the stomping, squiggly ”Nothing to Worry About,” it kills.
On their 2006 breakout album Writer’s Block, Swedish indie rockers Peter, Bjorn and John built a musical creed out of dusty minimalism, with standouts like Young Folks and Up Against the Wall taking up a sparse residence in the arena of lo-fi splendor. Along with efficient use of scattered beats and one-note refrains, the album glided along in an industrial world of its own making, somehow managing warmth and isolation simultaneously. In that vein, 2009’s Living Thing takes the playbook and elevates it into an art form, expounding upon the low-key immediacy of Writer’s Block with all the ambient noise one would expect from the Stockholm trio.
It’s different from Writer’s Block, but then you might not remember how fuzzy and buffered—how slightly weird—Writer’s Block was. Remember the opening: “I laugh more often now, I cry more often now / I am more me”. Remember “Amsterdam”, all smoke and canals and perpetual momentum. Remember the sweet, nostalgic “Paris 2004” and those surprisingly long, seven-minute songs that seemed effortless.
Rain-sodden romanticism and drums that crash as if returning from a break in Ultravox's Vienna – Living Thing appears stranded in 1981. While a faithful stab at synth pop, there's nothing on the Swedes' fifth album to match Young Folks and, though more coherent, it lacks the eclecticism that made 2006's Writer's Block so appealing. .
These three Swedes don't want to be the musical version of When The Whistle Blows. Yes, they could've reissued a dozen slight variations of that initially delightful, eventually emetic Young Folks tune. But they didn't. Instead, if you give it time to grow on you, Living Thing does not blow. The ….
It was the whistle heard around the world. You heard Peter Bjorn and John's breakthrough single "Young Folks" on "Grey's Anatomy". You heard it on the in-house muzak system while waiting in line to order at McDonald's. You heard it every time your co-worker in a neighboring cubicle deigned to whistle while they worked.
Pop bands usually try to follow a worldwide hit with something that will build on their achievement. Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John have taken the opposite tack, trying to undermine any expectations the whistletastic Young Folks might have raised. It's not so much that Living Thing doesn't have good songs, more that they have been arranged in such a way as to conceal their appeal: for much of the time, this is an album of bass and electronic percussion, with Peter Moren's thin voice expected to provide all the melodic interest.
Living Thing, this Swedish trio's fifth studio album, marks a departure in sound from the skinny-jeaned Euro-pop of Writer's Block (2006). Where the latter put narrative and straight-ahead indie pop front and center, the new disc, like last year's instrumental Seaside Rock, finds PB&J playing with sounds and textures. "The Feeling" warps perception with electronic fussiness and a gloomy perspective, while the fuzzed-out "Nothing to Worry About" fiddles with bendy guitar, stuttery syncopation, and youthful backup singers.