Mosaic / Music / Reviews / April 6, 2011

still feeling writer’s block

There’s a great scene in György Pálfi’s 2006 film “Taxedermia” where an enormously obese speedeater is unable to rise from his armchair in order to feed his cats. The cats do what cats do best when they’re hungry—they eat the obese man.

Although this might seem like an absurd aside, it actually serves as an apt metaphor for Peter, Bjorn and John’s previous 2009 album, “Living Thing.” Besides a few choice tracks, PB&J struggled to rise from the weight of their much-acclaimed 2006 album “Writer’s Block,” which captured the scene’s attention with its dreamy, heart-broken low-fi attitude. Attempting to craft a new style with “Living Thing,” they came off sounding like robots with a crush on Vampire Weekend. As a consequence, all those hipsters with ironic cat fetishes devoured the poor Swedish band, and they were sent back to the drawing board, forced to find a new way out of post-hit hangover. “Gimme Some” is their latest effort.

Of course, just like after a night of hard partying, it’s impossible to see the harsh new day of “Gimme Some” without comparing it to the previous midnight’s revelries. Still, we want that beautifully light and emotionally earnest crooning so prevalent on “Writer’s Block,” and while PB&J will disappoint such desires, they offer us a fair amount to be impressed about.

The first track, for instance, “Tomorrow Has To Wait,” begins with pounding, march-along drums and works its way to an anthem-esque climax that draws an easy comparison to Arcade Fire’s tumultuous chorales.

“Down Like Me” also charms with its delightfully self-pitying lyrics—“No one brings me down like me”—crooned perfectly by vocalist Peter Morén. Intertwined with this pity-party is steady, albeit unoriginal, drum and guitar arrangement which occasionally spirals outwards to a Pavement-like squeal.

Yet on other tracks, the band’s latest effort just seems restless—like a grungy teenager crashing through his parents’ garage with a pawn-shop Fender, the most obvious example being “Black Book.” The track seems to chug along, slamming vocals, guitar and percussion into a single syncopated rhythm. Presenting angst without real emotion, the track falls on the cement and thrashes in its own scabs.

“Lies” is pitiful in a similar way. In its less-than-two-minute span, it reminds me of all the awful high school bands I danced to in basements when there was nothing better to do than pass out beside a cheap 40. Which is to say, you should only endure the track’s grating guitar and maudlin lyrics (“Your words, they dig into me like a knife”) if you’re heavily boozed and feeling reckless.

Yet it’s this track which leaves me most haunted. Easily, the song could be written off as a tormented romance-gone-wrong, but it also lends itself as a direct address to the music critic. “Before … you try to turn us down,” warns Morén, “I’m going to stuff your mouth with all your riddles.” The song leaves me wondering if it isn’t critics like me who have broken the handsome Swede’s delicate heart and left him to sing about it.

But such is the tragedy of criticism. We turn men into gods, and destroy them afterwards when they disappoint us with their humanity. That said, PB&J made my job oh-so-easy with “Gimme Some,” which certainly didn’t leave me asking the trio to gimme more.

Christopher Poore

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