I'll first go on record by saying I went in to this record turned off. We were in a van, driving along I-84 through Connecticut from NYC back to Boston one weekend. We were graced with one of those fancy watermarked copies of Living Thing, the brand spanking new album from everyone's three favorite Swedes Peter, Bjorn & John. Our van driver said "Issac said this one's different - there's next to no guitars on it." We put it in, a beeping tone goes off like someone opened the door to the van. John starts singing amidst breaks of hand claps and doo-doo's. Our jaws had dropped, with the collective look that could be summarized by one sentence:
What the fuck is this?
There were no guitars there. There were no guitars in the second song, "It Don't Move Me", either. Instead of some chords being strummed, it's all drum beats piano loops and exotic sounding moments of percussion, something I would soon realize was rather prevalent with every future listen. I remember the record starting to pick up by the time the first single, "Nothing To Worry About" came on. Guitars finally entered when Bjorn sang "I'm Losing My Mind", but by the time we got to the final quarter of the album we were all lost. We didn't know what we just heard. Was it a joke, was it an album made on a dare?
With me being me, I was automatically excited. Like it reads in their new bio, most people probably don't know that is their fifth album, following up last year's vinyl/digital only Seaside Rock instrumental opus. Most ignorant Americans probably figure this is their second album. They've been making songs since 1998, people!
I gave it a break, but came back week's later. "The Feeling" still irks me, but as a whole I guess it just is the right song to start it off with, to give the new feeling and vibe that you're about to go on a different journey. I feel like Peter doesn't sing so much, but if you do a breakdown of the songs he still sings lead on seven of the dozen.
The shining section, the suite that ties the room together is right in the middle, from American single ("Worry") to the even better European single ("Lay It Down"). In between there, the first prominent guitars show up on "Mind"; a trippy nod to 60s pop that might almost fit on Writer's Block. After that comes the not-so-far from Graceland/could be on Made In The Dark title track, a song doused in every new element the band is embracing. The clanging empty bottles or whatever they are juxtaposed with Bjorn panning the statement 'It's a living thing,' with a near schizophrenic breakdown in the chorus. "I Want You!", like "Mind", is as close as it's gonna get to pre-Living Thing PB&J.
After "Lay It Down" the album almost becomes forgettable, just making it's way to the end, yet it still has its moments and worth listening to. "4 Out of 5" is full-on last song at the club at 3 AM with a fat bear and docile vocals from Bjorn. And the album comes down with the synth echos of "Last Night", a moment John says that sure could change the past, as random beats come swooping in from the darkest corners like "In The Air Tonight". Maybe Phil Collins is in the room?
If I could write one thing, and this post was only allowed to be one sentence long, it would be something about how I applaud them for making an album they want to. This isn't Writer's Block II, no one is whistling in between verses traded off by a boy and a girl. This is a band who deserves to be awarded for their artistic merit, making this stark/dark 80s pop record. This is like when The Rosebuds took a step off the path and succeeded with Night of the Furies, going down that dark and ominous path to come out with something different yet accessible. Most people are going to pan this like their ill-fated SXSW gigs last week, but maybe people will go in with an open mind and a good set of headphones to take it all in.
Stream: Living Thing [MySpace]