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April 6, 2009 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Peter Bjorn & John – Living Thing (Shock)

Pitchfork just gave Living Thing a 5.5. When I heard the shaky, non-catchy chorus on opener ‘The Feeling’, I was worried they had got it right. Thankfully, I opted to persevere, and ended the album feeling pleasantly surprised. By the second listen I had properly gotten over how unusual Living Thing sounds, and was able to unpick the songs with some proper perspective. Several of them are actually flat-out fantastic; it’s just that their merits are realised with greater subtlety than on the insta-pop gratification of their old anthemic whistle-hit ‘Young Folks.’ Had PB&J set out to try to recapture the accessible genius of Writer’s Block they probably would have failed. I would like to commend them for having the courage to rework their sound and thereby take music into interesting and unexpected new places. The title track is perhaps the best example of this. It’s rim-clicking drums and delayed guitar loops create an unusual, almost neurotic atmosphere, which sounds like nothing they’ve recorded before. It takes a full two minutes before the chorus arrives. The vocal layers slowly start piling up, a guitar begins chopping back and forth, and the drums pound on relentlessly. Then you hear it:

“It’s a living thing/It’s a little thing/It’s a living thing/It’s a little thing/It’s a terrible thing to lose…”

Sheer euphoric release.

I think it’s gorgeous, and how anyone could dislike it blows my mind. Apparently PB&J are about to go on tour with Depeche Mode, a combination that would have struck me as completely bizarre three years ago. But upon hearing Living Thing I can totally see why this is happening. The album has a definite late 80s influence, although it lacks the lush melodic excess and synth overload that artists like Depeche Mode became famous for. But just like some of Depeche Mode’s best works, Living Thing isn’t an easy listen, so give it time. Don’t let the sparse arrangements put you off— there are some fantastic pop moments tucked away behind the façade of its shuffling structures and lonely melodies. Pitchfork were right when they compared this album to Kanye’s 808s and Hearbtreaks—they have kindred aesthetics. Some great albums require effort and curiosity before their merits can fully manifest themselves in that strange space between your ears and your brain. 808s definitely falls into that category, and I think that Living Thing probably does as well.


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Comments (9)

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  1. Kelvin says:

    Dear Kim,

    You need James to write more for you because he is by far the best writer you currently have…

    Yours truely,


  2. Maggie says:

    Dear Kelvin,

    James is the best music writer Salient has?? Um, have you even, like, READ my Mel Parsons review? Yeah, I thought not.

    Yours truly,


  3. James Beavis says:

    Dear Maggie,

    I’ve got no game, but I WILL take you down at hopscotch any day of the week between the hours of 2 and 3. SMACKDOWN LAID.

    Yours Faithfully,


  4. Maggie says:

    Dear James,




  5. James Beavis says:

    Dear Maggie,

    I can smell the fear on you from here

    Yours Flippantly,


  6. Maggie says:




  7. James Beavis says:


  8. Maggie says:


  9. James Beavis says:


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