Stockholm trio Peter Bjorn and John piece the shards of broken relationships together to create well-groomed, hooky indie pop full of levity and nostalgia. Singer-guitarist Peter Morén met bassist Björn Yttling at a Swedish performing arts high school in 1992 where — in contrast to their classmates’ pursuit of jazz and classical music — they bonded over shoegaze and the Madchester scene. Drummer John Eriksson completed the trio in 1999.
Peter Bjorn and John plays like a test run — a study of boy-meets-girl love undertaken with a slavish devotion to Elvis Costello and the Attractions (“100 m of Hurdles,” “A Mutual Misunderstanding,” “Matchmaker”). “Failing and Passing” captures the album’s mood (“I remember silly things that you said we shared / I remember things you told me about your mom and dad”) but the swelling organ riff on “People They Know” steals the spotlight. The 2007 reissue adds five songs previously available only as Swedish B-sides, including “Don’t Be Skew,” a departure which pairs a simple guitar line with rim-shot percussion set against ’60s-era harmonizing.
PB&J take more chances on Beats Traps and Backgrounds. Morén sings with new urgency (“It Beats Me Every Time”), and the rhythm section matches his energy on the Jam-like rocker “(I Just Wanna) See Through.” Odd but enjoyable, “Unreleased Backgrounds” samples French movie dialogue and saves the vocals for the last half of the song.
A faultless cover of the Concretes’ “Teen Love” indirectly gives Falling Out its name: “Fallin’ / Fallin’ in / I’ve fallin’ in love with you.” On the second full-length, Peter Bjorn and John integrate their influences into a distinct sound. The nods to Costello can still be heard on “Tailormade,” but they no longer dominate. Ellekari Larsson’s guest vocals on “Money” play off Morén’s to echo Lazy Line Painter Jane-era Belle & Sebastian. Yttling sings lead on “Start Making Sense,” which plays like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” backed with ambient synths. The 2007 reissue includes Beat Traps and Backgrounds plus the mod-like “Fortune Favors Only the Brave,” originally a B-side to “Teen Love.”
It did not take long for “Young Folks,” the first single from Writer’s Block, to cement its place as Peter Bjorn and John’s signature track. “Young Folks” is rooted in solid contributions from each member of the band: Yttling’s syncopated whistle, Eriksson’s bongos and the flirtatious vocal lines exchanged between Morén and guest vocalist Victoria Bergstrom (Concretes, Taken by Trees). Like a replicating virus, the song spread wildly, appearing in countless reissues and remixes, including versions by Diplo and Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve. (The song’s ubiquity likely prompted Wichita to re-issue PB&J’s back catalogue.) Beyond “Young Folks,” Writer’s Block offers a kaleidoscopic variety of pop, with nods to Manchester through the ages, from the Hollies (“Let’s Call It Off”) to New Order (“Up Against the Wall”). “I Start to Melt” is shoegaze, while the gentler harmonies of “Paris 2004” feature Eriksson on dulcimer. Each of the three 2007 reissues offers different bonus tracks: vinyl holdouts get a second LP of outtakes, the single disc CD includes the Girl Talk remix of “Let’s Call It Off” and the limited-edition bonus disc offers the only chance to hear “Self Pity” and “Sitar Folks.”