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Peter Bjorn and John Reach Peak Pop Polish on 'Breakin' Point'

Music ReviewWeston PaganoComment

The wait for this one was so long we're not young folks anymore. Everyone’s favorite Swedish indie pop trio, Peter Bjorn and John, had been taunting fans with #PBJ7 social posts for much of the five years since Gimme Some gave us 300% of a normal thumbs-up in 2011, before finally releasing their 7th LP, Breakin’ Point, today. Delayed by growing families and a label shift as the band left Sony imprint Startime for their own Stockholm startup, INGRID, the wait has turned out, of course, to be worth it.

Breakin’ Point launches straight into things; you can already picture audiences clapping along as disco-tinged lament of working for The Man, ”Dominos,” sets off the "chain reaction" that launches into 12 tightly-packed tracks, all clocking in at 3:something or less (even “A Long Goodbye" doesn't reach four minutes) as if the triple-headed hammer on the cover itself cranked them out.

“It says, ‘We’re back! We’re smashing it!’” bassist Björn Yttling explains of the album art, which consists of, per tradition, three parts - one for each member. It's the affable Swedes’ most cartoonish and playful offering yet, which says a lot for the trio that gave us the undeniable whistler “Young Folks" among others, but their pop sensitivities, as radio-ready as they increasingly are for better or worse, lose little in the ways of heart. It needs to be “like ABBA,” Yttling says, and it’s clear they take the inspiration of their compatriots seriously; PB&J recorded Breakin’ Point in studios formerly used by ABBA, and have even jokingly claimed to be the classic group’s illegitimate sons.

PB&J first explored using outside producers on Gimme Some, but they’ve enlisted an entire star-studded roster of them this time around, including Paul Epworth (Paul McCartney, U2, Florence And The Machine), Patrick Berger (Robyn, Icona Pop), Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia), Emile Haynie (Kanye West, FKA Twigs), Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow) and Thom Monahan (Wild Nothing, Devendra Banhart). The band explored several evolutions following their well-deserved Writer’s Block breakthrough from Seaside Rock’s instrumentals, Living Thing’s minimalist electro-funk, and Gimme Some’s amped up guitar-driven power dynamics, and the newfound influence of big pop producers doesn’t go unfelt here as Breakin’ Point instead reaches for peak accessibility and polish.

Long-term fans will attest it was PB&J’s endearing quirks that kept them around after some fantastic sync licensing first propelled their 2006 ubiquitous flagship tune to the world stage, however - the beautifully poignant epic of “Up Against The Wall,” the captivatingly juxtaposed aggression of “Lay It Down," the viciously enthralling hook of ”Amsterdam” (which has been this author’s ringtone for as long as he can remember) - and Breakin’ Point lacks any adventurous, next-level standout in that way, resulting in their most consistently medium tempo, homogenous effort in years.

That being said, PB&J do however succeed at what they (safely) do attempt; the frantic skitter and plink of “What You Talking About?” proves they still know exactly what they’re saying, and they're slick while they do it. Their iconic, cheerful whistling notably returns in the title track and “Nostalgic Intellect,” (which “may seem like bigger news than it is, hey its only whistling,” the press release notes), with the former bolstering Peter Morén’s soaring vocals as they present a vulnerably honest attempt at finding courage for newfound fatherhood: “I saw it in Jesus / Saw it in Superman / Got it from whiskey / Like any loser can.”

Do Si Do” drops a Beatles reference on its way to the dancefloor, while “Between The Lines” aptly concludes “It's hard to sing if your hearts not there.” The punchy cowbell in album highlight and closer “Pretty Dumb Pretty Lame” is far from either of those things as PB&J address the triviality and tension found in their own profession: “Well you complain in the press / You’ve been under a stress / Well every nine-to-fiver is stressed out for less / If you enjoy what you do / Don’t let it ruin you.” These glimpses of true self-awareness are a precious commodity in today’s pop, and it’s exactly that and their genuinely disarming disposition that has always set them apart from their pop rock peers, even at their most formulaic.

“There are very few songs in our collection that are positive. I can’t think of one,” Yttling admits, which may surprise casual listeners. “It's always been about the blues. Life is shit, but tonight is nice – that’s what pop is, especially the songs that we love. You wanna have some darkness to be able to see the light. That’s how we do it up here in Sweden! It’s like a black and white movie if you look out: snow and a black mass of darkness.” It’s may not always reach the depth of past works, but Breaking’ Point does its part to make that darkness abate, even if for only 41 minutes.


Read our full-length interview with Peter Bjorn and John here.