Peter Bjorn and John
Living Thing
(Almost Gold)

The problem with Peter Bjorn and John's new album, Living Thing, is not that it fails to live up to their outstanding 2006 single "Young Folks"; it's that it fails to live up to the album on which that song appeared, the excellent and hit-heavy Writer's Block. (For the sake of this review, we're ignoring the semi-instrumental diversion Seaside Rock, because really no one's even heard that record.) Not only is there no inescapable whistle-along here, there's nothing approaching excellent deeper cuts like "Let's Call It Off," "Up Against the Wall," or "Chills"—not even close.

Lead single "Nothing to Worry About" is in fact quite worrisome, its clipping kids' chorus sounding like a lame, late attempt at replicating Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.," its lazy R&B never quite warranting such a large-scale ensemble. "I'm Losing My Mind" is incessantly repetitive, but mere repetition can't hammer its chorus into anything resembling a hook. The faux Afro-pop of the title track recalls (most recently) Hot Chip's "One Pure Thought," but with far less energy or impact—PB&J's sharp, delayed guitar, rising bass, and tumbling chorus just almost building up some excitement. Most of the album is just forgettably pleasant—"I Want You!" or "Just the Past," for instance, make for easy listening but hard remembering.

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Closest to past heights is perhaps "Blue Period Picasso" or "It Don't Move Me," the latter's echoing bass line, tense rhythm, and vocal cadences sounding like a watered-down Writer's Block–era verse. "Lay It Down" is a nice surprise, if just for the swinging, kiss-off chorus that kicks off the song: "Hey, shut the fuck up, boy/You are starting to piss me off"—it's the album's best (and most sing-along-worthy) moment by far, but it's just not going to sound the same on the radio.

Living Thing is well made, in a kind of technical sense. Peter Bjorn and John are capable musicians, singers, and studio hands, and the album's sounds are fine enough—especially nice is the sense of space on this album, percussion clatters around in the far corners of songs, and fingers sliding up fret boards echo through the room—they're just lending their skills here to a batch of inferior, almost unfinished-sounding songs. recommended

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