Peter, Bjorn And John - Living Thing

The Swedes buck expectations...
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You’d forgive them more than a hint of repetition. After all, before That Hit, Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and John were nobodies to the many and a curio to a few; in the wake of ‘Young Folks’, though, worldwide touring and chart success propelled them to a whole new level of recognition.

But ‘Living Thing’ – actually the band’s fifth studio album after last year’s understated instrumental offering ‘Seaside Rock’ – plays an unexpected hand from its first beats, immediately presenting a tone that’s remarkably different to the indie-pop template laid down by last LP ‘proper’, ‘Writers Block’. Gone, it seems, are the melodies, the rhythm instead coming to the fore and driving ‘The Feeling’ into the senses. It’s stripped-back, electronic clicks and slithers whistling between lyrics that state, simply: “I feel it… can you feel it? There’s something in the air.” Indeed, and it’s something we’ve felt from PB&J before.

This is PB&J: The Cyberpunk Version (Vision?), where all semblance of tweeness – of whistle-along summertime pop, cheery carefree times – is abandoned in favour of beat-led manifestations of their newfound fondness for flying in the face of doing what’s expected of them. While a clear pattern of development within a field could be traced from their self-titled debut through to ‘Writers Block’, since their biggest hit to date they’ve done all they can to shake the shackles of predictability, and said field’s been left far behind. So while ‘Don’t Move Me’ features a structure vaguely comparable to ‘Young Folks’, it’s ostensibly the Tech Noir take – you almost expect Arnie to buzz the intercom midway through and ask if You Know Who is home.

Also evident is an embracing of ‘80s pop of an almost goth-toned variety – ‘Just The Past’ could sit pretty soundtracking a vital plot twist in some Joel Schumacher Brat Pack flick, likewise the eerie ‘Last Night’, a track which serves as evidence to back its makers’ claim that they’ve gone from riding a rollercoaster around ‘Writers Block’ to hanging out in the ghost house (read our exclusive interview for more). But it’s not all doom and gloom on ‘Living Thing’, as flashes of sunshine-blessed pop savvy cut through the atmosphere like a hot knife through so much melty butter.

‘Nothing To Worry About’ is one such offering. Still it clunks and clangs with the industrial, semi-electro feel of much around it, but by packing a kids choir into the equation alongside a defiantly swaggering backbeat – check out the video and you’ll see how it suits a wee jive – it transcends the oppressiveness to sit proudly as one of its parent record’s finest, most immediate cuts. ‘Lay It Down’ is similarly jaunty, with an almost circus-comes-to-town feel, but its cutting lyrics suggest that – while the music is upbeat – all is not well in the mindset of its protagonist. The title track, meanwhile, is the best impression of Vampire Weekend doing their own impression of Paul Simon you’re likely to hear all year.

Likely though it is to catch some admirers unawares, and drive a handful of followers the other way, there’s no doubting that ‘Living Thing’ surpasses any critical hopes for progress between albums through its complete sidestepping of typical development routes. It’s more reinvention than evolution, presenting a side of PB&J that few could have foreseen coming. And on that basis warrants fairly rapid investigation.

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