Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Up Against The Wall

I generally reserve the right to ignore or dislike bands for completely arbitrary and silly reasons – like Swedes Peter Bjorn & John. Though the import edition of their third album Writer’s Block scored an impressive 8.5 from the Pitchforkian judges and made a few discriminating year-end lists, I opted to ignore them because… well, the name. It doesn’t matter that those are actually the first names of the band members – I just found it so awful (and even worse if you look at the acronymed version) that I decided to pay no attention to them. But the internet had different plans.

Leading up to the domestic release of Writer’s Block on February 6, PB&J (shudder) have been everywhere in Blogopia thanks to their appearance Monday night on Conan O’Brien and their inaugural New York shows. But none of that means anything to me – alls I know is I got a copy of the record last week and have been soaking it in. On first listen, it seemed rather innocuous – certainly pleasant in that inimitable Swedish way, but more understated than I’d expected for something that was getting the praise it was. But within a few more spins, it was evident that the hooks had burrowed their way into my brain like tapeworms. If tapeworms actually resided in the brain.

The way I figure it, the secret of this album lies in the arrangements. They’re quite lean but this proves very effective in directing the listener’s focus exactly where they want them to – the whistling, the twangy guitar line, the drum fill, the vocal line. The roughness in the production sounds a bit like an affectation as it’s obvious that Writer’s Block is a very meticulous and deliberate piece of work. Everything is exactly as it is for a reason and a purpose – maximum stealth pop hookery. The prime example of this is the big hit single from the record (#2 #35 in the UK), “Young Folks” featuring the narcoleptic crooning of former Concrete Victoria Bergsman. The first time I heard it, I was all “what, this is it?” and now I’m all, “yes, I understand”. Never mind the tapeworms – this record is like those ear bugs from Wrath Of Khan. Still not a fan of the band name, though.

Pitchfork talks to Bjorn Yttling about catching the Leafs-Rangers game in New York tonight while The New York Times reviews one of their NYC shows. Bradley’s Almanac has captured the audio of their performance on Conan (with Ms Bergsman in tow) from Monday night as well as that of Billy Bragg on Craig Ferguson at the very same moment. How’d you do it, Brad? MAGIC.

MP3: Peter Bjorn & John – “Young Folks”
Video: Peter Bjorn & John – “Young Folks” (YouTube)
Video: Peter Bjorn & John – “Let’s Call It Off” (YouTube)
Stream: Peter Bjorn & John – “Writer’s Block”
MySpace: Peter Bjorn & John

And speaking of Victoria Bergsman’s old outfit, I’m surprised to see that The Concretes have regrouped so quickly from losing their lead singer/songwriter. Wasting no time, they’ve already recorded a new record with drummer Lisa Milberg handling lead vocal duties – the album is called Hey Trouble and they hope to have it out this Spring. There’s a song from it streaming on their MySpace and to be honest, it’s pretty underwhelming. But I’ll reserve judgment on their fortunes without Bergsman until I hear the whole thing.

It’s more March madness as the concert announcements keep rolling in. Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips will be at the Mod Club on March 12, their first post-Luna appearance in our fair city. Sure, I have to be on a plane to Austin the next morning, but there’s no way I’m missing this one. Back Numbers is out on February 27, almost two years to the day since Luna played their final show. Sniff.

And the day before (March 11), Damon Albarn and his all-star band, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, are at the Kool Haus. What I’ve heard from the project has done almost nothing for me. Am I being too hasty in judging or is that really all there is to it? Or perhaps I’m just put off by the name (see notes on fickleness above). CMJ profiles the band.

Australia’s Youth Group will be at the Horseshoe on April 3 with Aqueduct. It’s a free show so no complaining about not getting bang for your buck.

The Belfast Telegraph talks to Charlotte Hatherley, whose new album The Deep Blue is out in the UK on March 5.

The New Pollution, Aversion and Harmonium all talk to Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal.

np – The Early Years / The Early Years

By : Frank Yang at 8:15 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. juepucta says:

    Britta and Dean! Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy! Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy! Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy! Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy! Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy!


  2. Roland says:

    Huh, between The Knife, PB&J and Sally Shapiro, Pitchfork is really liking those Swedes. I’ll check these guys out; one million bloggers and P-fork can’t be wrong. Incidentally, Bjorn might also be a Rangers fan because their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, helped Sweden win a Gold medal last year at the Olympics. Go Blueshirts!

  3. yttrium says:

    Tapeworms acutally can reside in the brain. If an adult tapeworm has larvae, they can infect the blood stream and travel to the brain. So you’re totally right!!

  4. kathryn says:

    Ryspace has mp3s of one of the NYC performances:

  5. Charbarred says:

    The Concretes were underwhelming to begin with, how can you make that worse?

  6. torr says:

    "Young Folks" got #35 in the UK charts, not #2.

  7. Frank says:

    misread the wikipedia entry. corrected.

  8. Karl says:


  9. Carrie says:

    Ha! I see Peter Bjorn & John everywhere, and listen to their music fairly regularly, and yet have never even noticed the PB&J thing. God, I’m slow sometimes.

  10. Cubilas says:

    Frank – The good, the bad and the queen are great. Everything Damon Albarn touches is gold.


  11. brent says:

    the good, the bad, and the queen took several listens to grow on me. then suddenly damon’s silly keyboard parts and understated vocals all made sense and created a sort of sonic landscape that took me somewhere…

  12. Queen of Sheba says:

    I’m so glad someone else disqualifies bands based on name! I can’t listen to Cake because I really just dislike the word–which is annoying, because every time they come up on my station etc., I think "what is this? it’s cool."