If you’ll be their bodyguard…

Living Thing is actually Peter Bjorn and John‘s fifth album, but for all intents and purposes, it’s their second. Barely anyone had heard of the Swedish trio prior to the 2006 album Writer’s Block, and hardly anyone noticed when they released the largely instrumental Seaside Rock last year. So it’s disappointing, but not entirely surprising, that Living Thing has all the hallmarks of a sophomore slump: it emphasizes production above quality songwriting, and plays against all of the strengths that made the breakthrough record so good. Gone is the band’s signature breezy guitar pop, replaced by minimalist electronic arrangements that mostly consist of little more than a canned beat a buzzy synth. It’s a gutsy album to be sure; it just isn’t much fun to listen to.

Thankfully, Living Thing does achieve one moment of “Young Folks”-worthy brilliance with the afropop-inflected title track. It’s pure Graceland, mixing the bass slides of “You Can Call Me Al” (“Bonedigger, bonedigger”) with the sunny guitar leads of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Placed in the middle of a bleak, austere album, this moment of vibrancy is all the more dazzling for the contrast.

The album will be released on March 31 via Almost Gold, and it’s currently streaming at the band’s MySpace.
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