In pop music, simplicity is a virtue. The best pop songs whittle their charms down to a simple one-two punch-the verse and chorus-and then repeat. It’s not rocket science, but it’s perfectly suited to delivering the goods to listeners, for whom anticipation (“Here comes my favorite part . . .”) and fulfillment (“That was SO my favorite part.”) are the principal sources of pleasure. On its third full-length, Writer’s Block, the Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John shows an expert acumen for this kind of by-the-book pop construction.
Nearly every song on the album glides on effortless melodies that will likely settle into your brain quickly. Granted, songs this easily digested run the risk of a short shelf, yielding fewer discoveries over repeat listens. But PB & J combat that threat by ornately decorating the songs with unpredictable production choices. Take “Young Folks,” Peter Moren’s ubiquitous duet with the Concrete’s Victoria Bergsman. The heart-rending vulnerability of its lyric and the interplay between Moren’s emotive delivery and Bergsman’s glacial coo would make it an exquisite pop song-even without such an engaging treatment. But rather than let the strength of its sing-song melody do all the work, they paint a lavishly textured backdrop to maximize its impact. Subtle but funky, the song kicks off with a breakbeat, shaker and bass before an off-kilter whistle maps out the verses. As icy synths breathe down Bergsman’s neck at the end of the first verse, the chorus opens everything up with ringing guitar chords and pattering bongos.
It’s an impressive trick-the band’s dexterous addition and subtraction of instruments-that’s mirrored in the album’s diversity. Both “Start to Melt” and “Objects of My Affection” rely on flat, treble-drenched sprays of guitar, and “Up Against the Wall,” the album’s epic workout, layers Bernard Sumner-style single-note guitar leads. By contrast, “Amsterdam” is a mid-tempo synth number with hand claps and a creeping melody. And closer “Poor Cow” strips it down to sparse acoustic-guitar strums.
In the end, Writer’s Block isn’t a life-changing musical statement, but it is a superb collection of finely crafted pop songs. Even though the album’s title intimates the opposite, Peter Bjorn and John proves that there’s still a wellspring of creativity to be found in understated and sturdy songwriting.