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Peter, Bjorn & John
Living Thing The Quietus , April 8th, 2009 06:51

Sweden's Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Eriksson are stuck in a rather unenviable position with Living Thing. Their last proper release, Writer's Block (if you don't count their 2008 instrumental diversion, Seaside Rocks), featured the now ubiquitous 'Young Folks.' From humble origins, it's a song that slowly spread around the world with bespectacled urban hipsters whistling its melody while riding their fixed gear bikes, before making its way into the wider populace as a soundtrack for every TV and radio spot imaginable. Girls liked it, marketeers loved it and even Kanye West got in on the act when he joined the Swedish trio onstage for a rendition of the song.

What's a band to do with a bloated, whistling albatross perched heavily on their shoulders? The answer, apparently, is to pull a Radiohead circa 2000 and embrace the electronics and beats while ditching a trademark guitar sound. The band has even taken to name checking the likes of John Cage in interviews, alongside the more pop-friendly fare of OMD and Depeche Mode.

Of course, this being a group of Swedes who previously specialised in occasionally twee indie rock, the results on Living Thing are more off-kilter pop than Cage's 4'33".

Opener 'The Feeling,' starts off with a set of synthetic drums and handclaps as occasional singer Eriksson vocalises some existential mutterings before bluntly declaring that he feels "…there's something in the air." 'It Don't Move Me' points towards a new direction for the band as Moren successfully combines his distinct twang with beats that could easily have been lifted from Lykke Li's debut (which was produced by PBJ's Björn). Yet for every instance where the band appear to confidently step forward, they suddenly decide to retreat on the likes of lead single 'Nothing to Worry About' – which ups the cuteness factor to sickening new heights with the warped sound of a children's chorus. Though it's the titular track, 'Living Thing,' which fares the worse as it collapses into a heap of cloying melodies and disposable rhythms last spotted on the cutting room floor of Paul Simon's Graceland sessions.

It's not to say that Living Thing is a full-blown failure. There are too many ideas and potent melodies at play here for it to be kicked to the curb and quickly forgotten. 'Lay it Down,' with its chorus of "Hey, Shut the Fuck Up Boy, You're Starting to Piss Me Off," is clearly destined to live a long life in halls of residence across the globe. So while Peter, Bjorn and John may not have successfully plotted a trajectory towards a bright new horizon this time around, they just might get there yet if they're willing to dust off those guitars on future outings.

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