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What I’m listening to this week: Peter, Bjorn and John

April 29, 2009
Living Thing – 2009

It turns out to be sort of a Swedish theme recently, as I just listened to Peter, Bjorn and John‘s new album, Living Thing, for the first couple of times this week. I had already heard that the new sound was somewhat unexpected and that apparently Kanye West, like, REALLY REALLY DUG IT, so I was probably better prepared than most who might have immediately been alienated by the fact that “Young Folks 2” wasn’t the first track.  P, B & J have always had experimental tunes on each album, but the biggest difference from the get-go between Living Thing and their last album, Writer’s Block, is that there is no wall of guitars and abundance of catchy hooks this time around. They set out the tone on Living Thing right away with “The Feeling”, a minimalist production with African beats, hand claps, and the lyrics, “I feel it, can you feel it, there’s something in the air.” The common thread throughout the album is the lack of plentiful pop instrumentation and the introduction of simplistic rhythms and sound machines, using the absolute smallest number of odd noises to get across the feeling of each track. “Just the Past”, “I’m Losing My Mind”, and especially “Stay This Way” are the prime examples of P, B & J’s unwavering commitment to this method.

It’s easy to see why Kanye would like the track “Nothing to Worry About”. The drums sound straight up hip-hop inspired and the digitalized children’s chorus make this a contender for a soon-to-be sample. Perhaps the only moment on the album close to the indie-happy vibe of “Young Folks” is the unabashedly ethnic “Living Thing”, which borrows some of its pieces from Paul Simon’s Graceland period. If “Living Thing” is the most upbeat track, “Lay It Down” is the most fun, what with its chorus begging to be chanted in shopping malls and churches. “Blue Period Picasso” is the tip-toeing, heartbreaking love song companion to those 2 tracks, complete with endearingly quirky lyrics about art thieves and Japanese tourists.

Living Thing is indeed different from Peter, Bjorn and John’s other albums, but it’s a giant step toward staying relevant and innovative that shouldn’t be compared to their other albums. Living Thing sounds like the band were out to prove something and they completed that task in spades. It is immediately striking, immanently interesting, and a lot of fun to absorb. I LIKE IT…I REALLY DO!!

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