Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Peter Bjorn and John Writer’s Block AlmostGold Recordings

"The question is: Was I more alive then than I am now?"

When Peter Morén poses that unsettling query on "Objects of My Affection," amid rolling drums and dramatic, cycling chords, he's wistfully remembering love lost. But as my days of voracious music devouring and outrageous concert road trips seemed farther and farther in my rearview, I was feeling old at 23 and asking myself the same question. In recent months, very little new music seemed exhilarating, I often opted to stay in instead of rock out, and my songwriting, a longtime pastime, had dried up. Could I already be this burned out and jaded, less than a year out of college?

Thankfully, as this album sank in, it calmed those fears. Writer's Block is a nuanced, meticulous pop record that sounds as predestined and natural as if each song beamed from the band's fingertips straight onto disc, fully formed at birth. It's classic but not retro and populist but not stupid. In layman's terms, it rules.

Peter Morén, Bjorn Yttling and John Eriksson are three Swedes with different styles but a shared vision. Each band member contributes songs and lead vocals, but as their varied works pile up, they don't grate against one another. Instead, they coalesce into a beautiful whole. “Objects of My Affection” has the grit and grandeur of the Arcade Fire doing Nuggets, then “Young Folks” drops a whistling hook on a breezy groove, like a Curtis Mayfield track drained of its pigment. “Let’s Call It Off” is straight '60s nostalgia, but it’s, um, forward-thinking nostalgia. My pal David described “The Chills” as the Dismemberment Plan (zany as hell) meets Beach House (quiet as a mouse). “Up Against the Wall” squeezes an epic out of a simple two-chord vamp and a propulsive beat. It’s a glistening, warm, minimalist-to-maximalist track that inspires images of several thousand bobbing heads in a packed, dark club.

Yo La Tengo, jacks of all trades and masters of many, proved that a pop band can tackle this many styles and come up with a consistent whole. So it’s no surprise to read on Peter Bjorn and John’s website that Morén called the new Yo La album his favorite of last year. Like Yo La Tengo, these Swedes, veterans of their country’s burgeoning pop music scene, are straight-A students of pop music. They know what it takes to build the perfect pop song, and they do it nearly every time on this album. Every melody, rhythm and texture feels just right. Of particular note, Eriksson’s drumming, always inventive but never invasive, pushes many of these songs over the top.

Writing so enthusiastically about an album I ranked only 23rd best last year seems strange. (US release was last Tuesday, hence the timing of this review.) But in the past two months, Writer’s Block has bloomed in my ears and revealed itself as a masterstroke and a fire under my ass. I haven’t evangelized to my friends about an album so much in two years. I’m giddy thinking about the prospect of seeing the band in concert. I'm pumped to sit with my guitar and crank out Peter Bjorn and John ripoffs. I’m itching to delve into their back catalog. And perhaps most importantly, I can’t wait to find more sounds that make me feel this high.

So is my enthusiasm for music dead?

"I happily have to disagree.”

Grade: A+ Download: “Young Folks,” “Let’s Call It Off” Web: