Living Thing

Peter Bjorn And John

Almost Gold Recordings, 2009

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn & John struck gold with their inescapably catchy 2006 breakthrough, Writer’s Block, which featured the equally infectious single “Young Folks” along with a slew of other handclap-accented, breezy indie pop songs. Follow-up Living Thing is the other side of the coin; chock full of stuttering synths, brooding (and occasionally bitter) lyrics, and heavy clatters of programmed drums. Not really so lighthearted, to say the least, but this disc is an intriguing departure from their previous and an unexpected but mostly successful artistic development.

This album’s early press came courtesy of one Kanye West, who blogged about lead single “Nothing To Worry About.” Turns out, West was right on with his effusive praise; it opens with a twisted children’s chorus and spare electro accompaniments, but quickly becomes unsettling as the title repeats, growing more strained as the song warbles toward its close. Next single “Lay It Down” is undoubtedly the album’s standout, and an absolute 180 from anything off of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Writer’s Block. Replacing hooky whistling with bone-crunching synths and boasting one of the boldest kiss-off choruses in recent memory (“Hey, shut the fuck up, boy / You are starting to piss me off / Take your hands off that girl / You have already had enough”), this track is oddly radio-catchy – and the accompanying video is even more oddly awesome, with the band dancing awkwardly in masks.

There’s a sort of Depeche Mode feel to Living Thing in the instrumentation’s dark synthesizers and chunky drum loops. Album opener “The Feeling” is all ‘80s synth-driven moodiness, while follow-up “It Don’t Move Me” subverts their signature handclaps into something undoubtedly more ominous with hollow-sounding drums, echoing piano lines, and the refrain “ When history is done / And everything is over / What used to keep us warm / Is slowly growing colder.”

Adding new avenues into the PB&J aesthetic, the album’s title track takes a classic ELO tune by the same title and riffing on it with relentlessly energetic, South African-influenced beats. It’s undoubtedly the most carefree, soaring height the group reaches on this release, and paired with the earnest and sunny “I Want You!,” provides a nice respite from the alternate bleakness and feistiness that preceded. Meanwhile, “Stay This Way” is a deceptively light standout; propelled by slow finger-snapping and languorous harmonies, the song initially seems fairly spare, but Peter Morén earnestly singing “I don’t wanna go back / I don’t wanna move on / I don’t wanna grow up / I don’t wanna stay young” makes it hit home and proves the group’s ability to craft seamless and subtle pop songs.

Whether they’re weaving in stabbing electro beats or whistling, pissed off or hopelessly in love, PB&J is an inventive, enduring group. Living Thing may be a little more difficult to dig into than the accessible, sweeping melodies of Writer’s Block, but no matter – the songs will still stick with you long after this is done playing. 

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Almost Gold Recordings, and is used for informational purposes only.