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Peter, Bjorn and John’s “Living Thing” Lives! Sometimes …

Observer Scene | Thursday, March 26, 2009

For a trio who “don’t care about our own faults,” as they proclaim in their hit “Young Folks,” the release of their new album could not come sooner for Peter, Bjorn and John. The Swedish pop group’s latest full-length offering, “Living Thing” drops next Tuesday, March 31.

Famous for the song “Young Folks” which features an infectious yet unforgettable whistling track, Peter, Bjorn and John have been riding the popularity of this single for two years. Since their last album, “Writer’s Block,” was released in 2006, “Young Folks” has been featured in popular television, major films, and was even sampled by Kanye West. It has not always been underground success for the Swedish trio. Since 1999, the amalgam of Peter Moren’s vocals and guitar, Bjorn Yttling’s bass, keyboard and vocals, and John Eriksson’s percussion and vocals have been striving for musical recognition.

Recently, however, the trio’s fortune has begun to run out. The single’s cult popularity has begun to wane and at the recent SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Peter, Bjorn and John suffered through a set that was referred to as “an awful show,” by Moren.

Peter, Bjorn and John’s latest effort arrives in a timely matter, and with critical acclaim to boot. The album is recognized by all of the major music and entertainment publications as a sweeping success.

As a whole, “Living Thing” is a slight departure from the band’s familiar indie territory. With the frequent use of effected percussion tracks, along with the hollow aura present in most of the songs, “Living Thing” calls to mind the sparsely visited ’80s music atmosphere. The band acknowledges the ’80s influence on the album, citing bands such as Autolux, A-ha, Fleetwood Mac and Depeche Mode from the era as major influences.

The leisurely pace of the album incites varying moods throughout its duration. At times during “Living Thing,” the cadence of the tracks is deliberate and enjoyable, evoking the necessary foot-tapping. “It Don’t Move Me,” “Lay It Down” and “Living Thing” remind the listener of the glory that continues to ripple from Peter, Bjorn and John’s infamous “Young Folks.” Other instances leave the audience questioning where the band’s direction went. Several songs drag, offering nothing more than mundane beats and aimless vocals.

While the album as a whole lacks continuity, “Living Thing” nevertheless presents the keen indie fan with plenty of appreciable music. Though the conventional musicality typical to mainstream collections has clearly been neglected on the album, Peter, Bjorn and John salvage the audience’s attention with their dedication to the distinct ambience of their style. At times, the tracks sound as if they were recorded within a tin can. The wandering of Moren’s trembling voice accompanied only by the curious beats begs for appreciation, but in actuality is not sufficiently whole. On other instances, the songs blossom and soar as if performed in concert hall proportions.

As a complete album, “Living Thing” is rather inconsistent. At times, Peter, Bjorn and John effortlessly transcend the simple genius that has been brooding over the airwaves since “Young Folks.” Regardless, a decade of effort has resulted in a foot in the door for Peter, Bjorn and John. Whether the album has the staying power of their previous work remains to be seen. For now, “Living Thing” exhibits enough musical ingenuity to keep listeners waiting for the next earworm.