CD Review: Peter Bjorn and John, Living Thing

By on April 15, 2009

Peter Bjorn and John have jumped on the electro-pop bandwagon with their fifth studio release, “Living Thing.” The Swedish trio is best known for their addictive 2006 single, “Young Folks,” but this new album proves them capable of moving beyond one hit wonder status. From the erratically-paced opener to the tranquil cool-down of a closer, “Living Thing” explores the resurfaced-world of ’80s pop synths, while experimenting with drum machines – all of which create a toned-down electronic feel. It’s no wonder the album is reminiscent of Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” and Hot Chip’s “Coming On Strong,” because bands like these are doing the same thing.

However, “Living Thing” is still unfettered on its own, as its tracks dabble in handclaps, children’s choirs and angry lyrics over sunny riffs. But no matter how experimental the tracks get, they still find common ground in an upbeat rhythm and a beckoning for listeners to sing along. One single off the album, “Nothing to Worry About,” features loveable shrills of a children’s choir over African-infused beats and severed lines for verses whose lyrics serve more as instruments than anything else.

The songs are not about their lyrical message, but rather focus on all elements (including the lyrics) working together to create the musical qualities. Like in “Nothing to Worry About,” the disjointed lines serve as layers of the rhythm instead of aspects to be viewed individually. This also happens in the intro to self-titled track, “Living Thing,” where the repeated lyrics “Everything/Is a living thing” sound more like a layer of the drumbeat.

With profound lyrical meaning to the wayside, PB and J are able to focus more on having fun with the tracks, and perhaps this lightheartedness alone is what dubbed their sound so quickly as “pop music.” Regardless, the unity of the tracks stands in their common effect on the listener. Some songs will rock you to sleep with their bubble effects, (“I Want You” or “Last Night”), some will jerk you awake with their hilarious opening lines, (such as the joyfully-yelled profanities on “Lay It Down”). Whatever the songs make you do – laugh, chill out, dance – you will do it happily, and this is the beauty of “Living Thing.”

It’s probably safe to assume that “Nothing to Worry About” will be stuck in your head as consistently as the whistle-intro from “Young Folks” was during its year of radio overplay. However, just like in 2006, this may be more amusing, (if not delightful), than annoying – maybe all three.

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