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Peter Bjorn and John - Living Thing

Released Gold Recordings/StarTime International, 3/31/09

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

It’s hard to imagine what the last couple summers would have been like had Peter Bjorn and John’s hit single “Young Folks” never came to fruition. The catchy tune has been the staple song of every road trip, club scene, house party and bar mitzvah -- a harmless tune even your grandparents might enjoy! This simple yet exuberant band seems to have a knack for a certain truthiness in their music, which in turn has attracted a wide array of fans.

With their latest album, Living Thing, the trio seems to have held tight to their winning formula: honest lyrics, catchy hooks and a resilient drum machine. Alas, the latest creation from this Swedish trio isn’t what the average Writers Block fan would expect. This time around, PB&J have pooled together a mélange of their international influences, seemingly stripping down and deconstructing their own musical prowess and thusly creating an album full of texture and duality.

Living Thing offers up a multitude of sounds, drawing from a range past genres such as New Wave and minimalist post-punk. Listening to this album, it’s easy to hear that the majority of the songs are solely based on percussion, saturating each song with a kind of haunted and uneasy mood -- despite their ubiquitous pop hooks. There is a tension that kicks off in the beginning of the album, yet peaks right in the middle with “It Don’t Move Me”, that sounds like an angry letter directed at an ex lover, and rings something familiar of “Young Folks”.

It soon becomes evident that the standard format of song writing has been lost on Living Thing; with a haphazardly thrown together chorus and a disconnect between lyric and melody “Lay It Down” pushes further into the realm of disjointed uneasiness. However, the band soon strips down the wall of distortion and erratic drum beats, leaving only the essential elements -- voice, guitar, muted backbeat on “Blue Period Picasso” -- both a lovely ending to the album and a testament of the flexibility and musicianship of these three enigmatic musicians.