After reading Peter Bjorn and John’s press release for their new album Living Thing, you can’t help but feel the guys are a bit frustrated that Young Folks, their hit single with the infectious whistle off 2006’s Writer’s Block, got as popular as it did.
“What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary as a band this year, they think this will be our second album when in reality it’s actually our fifth,” said lead singer Peter Moren in the release.
When I spoke with him a few weeks before the band’s new disc hit shelves, he made it known that while he was appreciative of what that song has done for his career, Young Folks’ popularity was a mixed blessing.
“It was 99 per cent helpful,” he says on the phone from the group’s home base, Stockholm, Sweden. “But because it was tied into one song like that, we had to make an instrumental album (2008’s Seaside Rock). It was therapeutic for us to get into the studio without expectations.”
But, while it’s true that Seaside Rock is technically the follow-up to Writer’s Block, it’s Living Thing that people will compare to their hit record. If fans are looking for an album full of sunny, Young Folks-like pop, they’re going to be disappointed, mostly because that one song isn’t what Peter Bjorn and John are about. The band has always had a dark streak, and it’s out in full force here — the trio set their musical focus on spooky percussion and minimalist guitars and bass; in fact, the whole disc consists mostly of just vocals, drums and electro sounds.
However, every song still has the same infectious melodies that made Young Folks a hit, it’ll just take fans of that song a while to warm up to these somewhat less accessible tracks. But, if their fans bothered to listen to more than just Writer’s Block, they’d understand that Living Thing isn’t actually that different from their previous work.
“The album before Writer’s Block was a bit more angry and sad,” says Moren. “It just felt natural to do something in that vein again.”
Moren points out that they didn’t push their darker side because of Writer’s Block’s popularity. “Even if we wouldn’t have had that success, we still would have sounded like this now,” he says, adding that they’ve always tried to reinvent their sounds. “The soft songs and melancholy beats are similar, but you need to frame it in a different way.”
Of course, many fans won’t realize that they’ve been framing and re-framing their sound for years now, so to the followers who only know Young Folks Moren says “if you’re into Writer’s Block there are things you can find on other records you’ll like too.”
“But, if you only like a couple songs,” he makes sure to add, “that’s perfectly fine too.”
• Peter Bjorn and John play the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto on Saturday night.