Album Review: Peter Bjorn and John – Breakin’ Point

On their seventh album, the Swedish rockers embrace pop producers and their slow songs benefit most




  • digital
  • vinyl
  • cd

Without trying, or perhaps by trying really hard, Peter Bjorn and John established themselves early on in their career as a band to count on for fun. With the whistle that never ended on 2006’s Writer’s Block, the Swedish trio paved a path for indie rock that began hiking towards the mainstream, creating a hook so airy and warm that it was hard to not sing along. But that wasn’t the only way they wiggled onto party playlists. They kept quality in the forefront with each record that followed. Then came 2011’s Gimme Some, an album that showed they had more fire in their belly and hot stones beneath their feet. They couldn’t stop moving. If listeners wanted to dance to fun, raucous, giddy tunes, they would keep making them in the usual Peter Bjorn and John way. That’s who they were.

On Breakin’ Point, the three commit to polishing their brand of indie pop with a little help: Paul Epworth, Emile Haynie, Greg Kurstin, and more. It’s the pop producer lineup anyone would dream for. They waste little time manipulating the core of the band’s songs. They tighten up screws. They clean up feedback and emphasize synth until there’s no faults left. What if those faults, those errors or eccentrics, were key? Guitarist and lead singer Peter Morén, bassist Björn Yttling, and drummer John Eriksson let their fun come from their passion — and passion that can be traced through human craft, not through manipulated machine-like work, is the kind that offers the purest undercurrent.

Breakin’ Point sounds excellent; there’s no denying that. Opener “Dominos” leaps into precise handclaps and bold piano chords, enlisting monstrous synth for the chorus. “What You Talking About?” whips out a falsetto hook that shimmers with backup synth as a Michael Jackson-styled bass line struts along. “Nostalgic Intellect” ditches the synthpop structure for heady organ that plays into their vocal similarities to The Beatles. These are capital-G Good songs written to have fun to — live, they’ll likely explode — and not a single note is out of line.

As one song plays into the next over the course of the 12-track album, the record starts to dress itself like it’s made of plastic. Things are too good to be true, quite possibly because these producers scrubbed and polished until there were no scrapes, smudges, or errors left to point out. That’s what makes Peter Bjorn and John’s music so fun. They stand on their own, an independent act in a field of indie pop try-hards. Look at “Between the Lines”: It stands out on the record, reworking acoustic guitar and woodblock so they twist a faux ballad out of a chorus transition, a lightened load free of synth. It’s worth returning to, especially on a record of dense pop, but even that feels stripped of their true personality. No one is comparable, but Breakin’ Point’s poppiest numbers shorten the gap between them and their imposters.

What Peter Bjorn and John do nail, unexpectedly, is their slow pop numbers. “In This Town” rushes with the feel of an ‘80s radio hit, the kind that’s too unassuming to stay on the airwaves long but makes it onto every teen’s roadtrip mixtape. Lines like “In this town/ Sights and sounds are getting familiar/ A tumble ground for cynicals” were written to be belted with fleeting catharsis. Then there’s “A Long Goodbye”, a song whose “Heart of Glass” guitar intro knows to sidestep into the background so an original vocal melody line can take over. This is how you write a song that feels slow but actually upholds a steady tempo in the background by softening drums and emphasizing individual bass and guitar chords per measure. Even the campy whistles of the title track and the sweet acoustic guitar of “Between the Lines” win the listener over with come-down moods.

The truth is, Peter Bjorn and John haven’t been a jaunty whistle band for quite some time. Seaside Rock experimented with instrumentals. Living Thing got cheeky with shadows. Gimme Some stomped with heavy guitars and unforgiving rock. They’re been changing their sound as they please, when they please. Breakin’ Point serves as the next in line, where pop becomes the norm and they plan on cranking out jukebox hits until the sun comes up. Carly Rae Jepsen or Sky Ferreira would fit right in singing above each number. The pop hooks may get repetitive from time to time, a fault much pop is guilty of, but the trio rework it to their favor when things slow down. For the first time in a long time, possibly a decade, Peter Bjorn and John sound best not when amping up a crowd, but when giving them a song to wave lighters in the air to. That’s a feat in itself. Breakin’ Point isn’t a chance for them to lay down a groove. It’s an album for catchy moments to come with slow tempos, proving Peter Bjorn and John have been prepping another side to their forever multifaceted work that’s worth the five-year wait.

Essential Tracks: “What You Talking About?”, “In This Town”, and “A Long Goodbye”