Peter Bjorn & John Reassert Their Pop Significance

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After the streamers were pulled from the shoreline, the confetti scooped up from boardwalk, and the gobs of ice cream power hosed from the decks of Coachella stages, everyone forgot about minor pop sensation Peter Bjorn and John. Around the time 2009 reared its hissing head, the Swedish indie outfit of Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson took 2006 in their bindle, and moved on.

But two summers earlier, when the carbonated glee of “Young Folks” was relevant and blasting on your Zune, the elated ensemble was still suffering through the immense heat of Indio as if they were doing Lawrence of Arabia cosplay. I stood in line, after their performance at Coachella, and waited for them to sign my CD of “Writer’s Block”. Emotionally spent, physically out of steam, and looking like someone had just knifed their tires, the trio of musicians floated their Sharpies across the jacket of my compact disc with little interest. One of them – John, probably – almost forgot to write his name. He was too busy staring down the barrel of a Heineken. During that sun-baked weekend of ire, sweat, and $30 lemonade (I spent at least $500 dollars on the sticky stuff while I was hallucinating from dehydration) I ended up with a copy of Peter Bjorn and John’s limited edition Record Store Day vinyls. I didn’t want the unwieldy thing. I tried to pawn it off on several concertgoers: a shifty guy dressed up as the then en vogue Borat; a girl who couldn’t open a Crystel Geyser bottle; and an EDM kid whose phone number was plastered on his pants with glitter. None of them wanted the LP. It became my horcrux.

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OKC girl’s thoughts on Peter Bjorn and John

Subsequent releases – particularly that of “Living Thing” and “Gimme Some” – sounded lost, eviscerated of the spontaneity and glee of the sound that put the band on the map. The world forgot about Peter Bjorn and John. I no longer listened to them while eating Carolina BBQ in Pacific Beach. I no longer heard them faintly playing from radios in Ocean Beach bead shops. North Park kids coveted newer bands (MGMT or get fucked) and people in East County weren’t even in either equation, so there’s no use in bringing them up. PB&J (as a girl on OkCupid called them in a message to me yesterday) were no longer a thing.

And then, out of nowhere, the ensemble blew open the saloon doors like Doc Brown in that bad “Back II the Future” western, and delivered an album that was fun, pleasantly derivative, and cloying in its approach. After five years of silence, “Breakin’ Point” came out of nowhere to become 2016’s “Lisztomania”. Like an egg drop soup of Phoenix, MGMT and Foster the People, Peter Bjorn and John found the recipe to 2011 pop bliss, and repurposed the style for 2016. The album doesn’t break ground, reinvent summer music, or do anything even marginally sophisticated, and yet it’s clumsily fun and wholly catchy – the sails of this ship are propelled by the fondness and accessibility of other bands’ hits (the entire LP sounds like alternate universe B-sides to “Pumped Up Kicks”).

The success here lies in the unpretentious buoyancy of melodies in a year that has been tumultuously, exhausting, and, to be perfectly transparent, pretty shitty. Maybe this is the sound we all need. Empty calories and familiarity.

 

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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