Peter Bjorn and John’s Writer’s Block may have inadvertently previewed what was to come for this band; unlike most one hit wonders, the Swedish trio had released three albums with a number of fantastic tracks; “Young Folks” just happened to catch a wave of support that far surpassed anything else they had ever done — for random circumstances as much as its own brilliance. Now, with “Young Folks” appearing every week on Gossip Girl it’s impossible to ignore it when talking about Peter Bjorn & John, as it probably will always be. (How much do you think Nada Surf would give up to have one interview that didn’t mention “Popular?”)
Combine the runaway hit status of their previous album’s lead single with the fact that PB & J’s latest album, Living Thing, comes fresh off the Animal Collective’s masterstroke Merriweather Post Pavilion, a band Peter Bjorn & John’s entire career better resembles in terms of freaky, experimental eclecticism that still qualifies as pop, and you’ve got an almost impossible situation for Living Thing to make a dent. Unlike Merriweath Post Pavilion, Living Thing could never be confused as a generation-defining or even career-defining album. Nonetheless, it remains a damn good work of indie pop that manages to avoid clichés by constantly mixing up the tone. It’s not as good as Writer’s Block, and there’s no track that will match “Young Folks’” success, but there are moment that make you wanna dance, make you wanna scream at the band, and, like Portishead’s Third, one last year’s best albums, moments that make you go “did I really just hear that?”
PB & J do their best to deprogram your brain of expectations with opener “The Feeling” a trick track in terms of its use of percussion, but a trick that works. It may not batter the living daylights out of your eardrums like Portishead did with “Machine Gun” last year, but Peter Bjorn & John probably learned from them (or maybe 24) that playing music based solely on percussion can draw out unusual emotions and behaviors. Maybe the deprogramming was necessary, because the second track “It Don’t Move Me” is the closest sounding to “Young Folks” on the album, but is distinctive enough to qualify as a highlight of its own.