Peter Bjorn and John

Writer's Block

(Wichita/V2; 2006)

By Alan Baban | 24 October 2006

Stupidity is infectious. Knowledge is paralysing. Vulnerability is key. _Writer’s Block_ is awkwardly open, unfettered by the intellectual manacles of “exposition” or “concept.” It is what it is: a raw nerve firing off in the midst of the smoke-and-mirrors production aesthetic and grand ambition that have ruined much of this year’s song craft. Sure, the band has beefed up their sound since last year’s _Falling Out_, tripping teasingly over invisible precipices into caverns of open canvas--but the song, ultimately, remains the same. Expect the same calamitous poignancy that ran roots through the group’s previous work, except projected into higher definition. Peter Bjorn and John emerge here as a singular artistic entity, rather than the sum total of their influences. The tipping point is surely Victoria Bergsman’s alluring ennui on summer jam “Young Folks,” as the album assimilates, rather than openly apes (see the cover of the Concrete’s seminal “Teen Love” on _Falling Out_) their rudimentary geographic influences. The song, a potent combination of stalwart grooves and instrumental eccentricity is, like the best pop songs, startlingly simple, endlessly interesting, its nonchalant whistles and smooth synths conjuring up images of spaced-out tranquillity that is amusingly quashed by footsteps, bongos, and hiss snares that lie beneath its thin ice--the perfect encapsulation of that most juvenile form of deceit. Here, after all, are some of this year’s most assured and gripping pop moments, brought out by the homogeneous nature of the songs and the rhythmic and tonal contradictions playing out the drama set down in the lyrics. The steady thuds, overdriven bass vibratos, and crippling notes ground “Amsterdam” in pure tones of melancholy, and the aptly titled “Start to Melt” does just that, its decaying guitar feedback and gutter-drone organ buzzing out as the song undresses itself. Better still is “Let’s Call It Off,” which rides the kind of syncopated Strokesian drum effrontery that spells out “punk blast,” but instead of tinny guitars and choppy bass, the track is lavished with a strung-out guitar line, the bright chords and straight notes bent out of shape, shadows leaping over the pristine potential of what-could-be, leaving dying, dilapidated embers of a love parochial. It’s odd, but it works, as does the unadulterated blood rush of “Objects of my Affection,” which refuses to lay into silly pretences of intellect. Despite its more fractured stylistic elements--shoegaze smashing headlong into folk pop--Writer’s Block emerges as one of the most complete and satisfying records of this year. As put down in Moren’s much quoted lyric, “I laugh more often now / I cry more often now / I am more me,” Peter Bjorn and John realise the importance of sensitivity as well as intensity, hitching a balance between the two across the album--never too sensitive to belie the confident, careless strut that envelopes these songs, never too intense to bluster and obfuscate the crushing nuances that permeate their weighty core. It’s a winning symbiosis on a record that is nothing but a joy to listen to.