Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John spices up its instrumentation a bit on its sophomore effort, Living Thing; the group’s addition of a more eclectic, electronic sound to its insanely catchy brand of rock will undoubtedly bring in those who were not already mired in admiration for the group after hearing 2006’s whistling, maraca-shaking pop hit, “Young Folks,” off the band’s debut album, Writer’s Block.
Each song also seems to be part of a far more unified vision than the previous album, despite the distinct individual sound of each song. The whimsical, hodge-podge delights of Writer’s Block are subjugated in favor of a new sound that seems more nuanced and complete.
Although the band’s augmentation of its sound is a bit jarring at first, these elements combine to produce some innovative and undeniably fun tracks that develop nicely on the first album’s established sound. PB&J’s second album has a hypnotic and surreal feel to it, due to the band’s incorporation of an ’80s techno vibe used in novel ways.
The album is filled with a diverse range of beats and sounds. This range can be heard on “It Don’t Move Me,” which recreates the dance-techno force of Falco’s seminal “Rock Me Amadeus” except with, you know, talent. Many of the album’s songs are filled with effects that seem stripped from a plastic keyboard meant to be a children’s plaything; this is nothing new in itself, but there’s no denying the rhythms and melodies will get stuck in your head all day (but I’m betting you won’t mind).
Other auditory influences range from Phil Collins — the opening track, “The Feeling,” seems to have ripped off and reworked the lyrics from “In the Air Tonight” — to keyboard accompaniment occasioned in the vein of Depeche Mode and the Cure. For good measure, the band also throws in stray electronic-string chords that echo with a modern-sounding pulse reminiscent of Nintendo 64’s soundtrack for the game adaptation of the Bond film, “Goldeneye.”
Their lyrics are also darker in tone and subject. Lyrics that one imagine would be perfectly at home coming from the Cure’s lead singer Robert Smith depict a desire for infinite, completely hedonistic euphoria in “Last Night,” and a sudden apathy toward his previous interests on “It Don’t Move Me.” The darkening tone and minimalist instrumentation seems to have sprung from the need for the sounds and words to be felt in deeper space, contrasting to the cluttered aesthetic of the group’s debut.
Fans of the band’s previous effort would do well to approach this new work without expecting another “Young Folks” or a duplicate of the band’s old sound; otherwise, they’re in for a bit of a let down. Not because their new CD is horrible: It is absolutely not. It’s ambitious and well-executed (though it can be a bit divergent and weird – take the strange point-of-view of the lyrics in “Blue Period Picasso,” for instance). The band should be applauded for its refusal to rehash its wildly popular hit; it is clear that its astute pop sensibilities have much potential for future growth, even under the throbbing electronic rhythms and metallic varnish of this effort.