You’ve probably been there before. A friend confronts you, desperate to share a new song, certain you’ll love it and can only describe it by imitating the whistling heard within. Chances are this song is Peter Bjorn and John’s (PB&J) 2006 sleeper hit “Young Folks.” The same crew that brought us that unforgettable whistle is back with their latest album “Living Thing.”
Those expecting to hear “Young Folks II” shouldn’t bother with “Living.” Looking back at PB&J in 2006, one may have envisioned a very different path for them. One filled with a vast catalogue of alternative rock ballads that were outside the mainstream though still managing to set the status quo. This was certainly the case with “Young Folks,” which wields its own influence, but “Living” bucks this trend and embraces a more electro beat pop style.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with their divergence. They carry the act well, with their latest outing being more stylistically in line with that of other prominent electro pop groups. Expectations aside, “Living” offers many catchy and unique tracks.
The one tradeoff for relative accessibility of most songs is the album’s decidedly idiosyncratic nature. Could this lo-fi rebellion be a result of pent up angst brought from years of people trying to whistle their song? The overall intent of the album is foggy, especially given the bands apparent phobia of “selling out,” a dilemma that has long eaten away at the good intentions of many an indie band. Peter Bjorn and John’s solution to this problem is slightly more interesting being that the title track is nothing less than a near word for word rendition of The Electric Light Orchestra’s hit “Livin’ Thing.” Such a cover may prove to be tongue-in-cheek by making another hit or remaking one at least.
For all of the weak points on the album, the vocals and lyrics deserve special mention. Overall the instrumentals are upstaged by the more interesting harmonization and lyrics. On most tracks, when vocals aren’t dominating the percussion, bass is the typical instrumentation. When considering the album’s notable tracks, it’s the lyrics that make them memorable, as evidenced on “Nothing to Worry About” and “Lay it Down,” both of which carry an irresistibly quotable chorus.
For each high point on the album there is an equal low, which should not detract from some of its best moments. What really plagues this release more than its inability to incite emotion is its failure to clearly project its best moments. While many opportunities are given to sneak glimpses of genius, the listener is left whistling “Dixie” waiting for the next “Young Folks.”