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Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block

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Artist: Peter Bjorn and John

Album: Writer's Block

Label: Wichita

Review date: Sep. 10, 2006

Sweden is widely acknowledged as a fount of inspired indie-pop. For whatever reason, those socialist Nords can just crank the stuff out. Their musical exports are not unlike IKEA; Swedepop is typically well-constructed, comfortable and rarely ostentatious.

Au courant Swede sensations Peter Bjorn and John hail from the country’s picture-postcard North. The trio is currently strapped into the global hype catapult, where web-handy tastemakers are frantically preparing for launch. Zero Hour should coincide with the U.S. release of PB&J’s (ain’t that cute?) latest, Writer’s Block. Thankfully the music is actually pretty good, making the inevitable blitz of blogger enthusiasm a tad less irritating.

On previous releases, Peter handled all the vocal chores. This time around, both Bjorn and John are given microphone opportunities. The result is a tender pop prism, with themes of romance and doubt reflected through three individual, yet sympathetic facets.

Each member possesses a rather plain voice, however. While this ups the overall earnestness, it can have something of a dulling effect. Still, it’s obvious they’re simply singing what they feel. It’s hard to fault such unpretentious lines as, “The question is, was I more alive then than I am now? / I happily have to disagree / I laugh more often now, I cry more often now / I am more me,” from the blithely guileless “Objects of My Affection.” Never mind that Peter’s vocals sound like an even more tone-deaf Morrissey with a Scandinavian accent.

Musically, PB&J dip their fingers into three decades worth of pop like preschoolers with fingerpaints. The band freely mixes melodies and textures, ranging from the Zombies to shoegaze. Arrangements are kept simple, as not to detract from the always-cordial lyrics. The finest song on Writer’s Block is its single, “Young Folks,” which features a spot of whistling and a terrific guest vocal from Victoria Bergsman (the former Concrete), who sounds both detached and romantically willing. The tune’s frisky bassline and ’60s-style bongos make for a cheeky slice of urban sentimentality.

Another winning cut is “Roll the Credits,” which opens with an appropriately cinematic rush. The song proves that, unlike some of their contemporaries, PB&J can go beyond paper-doll pop into the realm of artfully layered sound.

Genial melodies and a humble vibe are the hallmarks of Writer’s Block, and Peter Bjorn and John will likely receive plenty of acclaim for their efforts. It’s an eminently listenable album, but there’s no need for unchecked evangelism. Just enjoy the damn thing.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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