Thursday, February 15, 2007

Album Review: Writer's Block

The word is Sweden, a nation of nine million, trails only the United States and Britain in terms of musical production. What that means and how it is calculated, I haven't a clue.

I do know from ABBA to the Cardigans to their garage rock revival bands such as The Hives and Mando Diao to even the insidiously catchy, if musically questionable, Backstreet Boys/Britney stuff of the late 90's -- which was actually being pumped out of Swedish song factories -- the Swedes seem to have a compulsion to make music you want to sing along with.

When I first come across the single Young Folks, I thought to myself: this is catchiness like I haven't heard in some time. When I noticed the name of the band was Peter Bjorn and John, the Bjorn spoke to the legacy the band was continuing.

Young Folks is a first person boy/girl duet in the spirit of the Human League's 80's smash Don't You Want Me Baby. Although where that song focused on a relationship gone stale, Young Folks explores its first few cautious steps. The lyric is angst-ridden and tentative, and when that doesn't contradict the driving drum beat the song is built upon, and the greatest whistling intro since Axl Rose presented Patience, it compliments them perfectly.

With their first American hit under their belts the band has just re-released their latest album, Writer's Block, and embarked on a North American tour.

Off the bat, what surprised me about Writer's Block is how much feedback and guitar noise are present on early tracks like Objects of My Affections and Start to Melt -- which wouldn't be out of place on a The Jesus and Mary Chain record. This is quite a contradiction to the clean, sparse sound of Young Folks.

But it is a good thing. The album takes its thematic cues of relationships and fear and longing from the hit single, but puts forth quite a diversity of sound in its execution.

A lot of this comes from PB&J being a group of three singers and songwriters. Peter, who can sound a little like early 60's rocker Del Shannon, handles the bulk of the singing, but Bjorn and John, who sound like Swedes singing in English, make contributions which, upon multiple listening, become just as relevant.

Really, the only part of the album I don't like is Poor Cow, the whiny clunker that closes the show. Songs like Objects of My Affections, Amsterdam and Paris 2004 should be heard far and wide.

Scandinavians, with their long dark blankets of winter, can be angsty in their artistic expression. In Writer's Block Peter Bjorn and John take that Northern burden and mix it with their particular Scandinavian country's proud history of making some of the most infectious music in the world. It works and works well.

Writer's Block A-

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