Peter Bjorn and John energetically return to roots
If you pursed your lips just so, you were ready to take the lead on Peter Bjorn and John’s breakthrough hit. “Young Folks’’ floated on a whistled melody that was hard to resist, easy to imitate. Back in 2006, and even more so the next year, you would hear the song everywhere — bars, grocery stores, independent radio, boutiques, various covers on YouTube, and even sampled in hip-hop (Kanye West was a vocal fan).
“Young Folks’’ was an overdue introduction to Peter Bjorn and John, the indie-rock trio of Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Eriksson, who had been releasing albums to little fanfare in their native Sweden since 2002.
But when the whistling faded out, a silence set in. And then a question: What would become of a band so inextricably linked to a song as specific as “Young Folks’’?
It would stretch, it turned out. After releasing an instrumental rock album and then an experimental one, Peter Bjorn and John are back with their most memorable work since 2006’s “Writer’s Block,’’ whose lead single was “Young Folks.’’
More impressive, “Gimme Some’’ is arguably Peter Bjorn and John’s first release that captures the immediacy and primal joy that course through their live performances.
“We often feel when people come to our shows, either they are shocked and think that the records are better, or they love the live show and think the records are lame,’’ Morén says recently ahead of Peter Bjorn and John’s show at the Paradise Rock Club on Thursday. “We wanted to make a record that reflects the energy and the punkiness that we have onstage.’’
“Gimme Some’’ channels the group’s main focus when it formed in the late ’90s: the simple calculus of how hard and fast guitar, bass, and drums can collide. Full of serrated guitar riffs and blunt drums, the album is primitive and punishing at its hardest (“Black Book’’) and playful (“Dig a Little Deeper’’) and moody (“Down Like Me’’) when you least expect it.
“First of all, we practiced quite a lot before actually going into the studio, more than we usually do,’’ Morén says. “We tried to have the arrangements contained within the trio so we wouldn’t need a lot of extra stuff, that it would work with just the three instruments and the voices. But then obviously when we started recording, a lot of things happened and changed.’’
The new album’s directness is notable after 2009’s “Living Thing,’’ which saw Peter Bjorn and John bending its boundaries to explore denser song structures.
“We always try to do something different from the record before,’’ Morén says. “For us, [the new album] is pre-‘Writer’s Block,’ pre-our-breakthrough with ‘Young Folks.’ On the really early stuff, we sounded more like this — guitar, bass, drums, and power-poppish — so we definitely wanted to go back to those roots.’’
The band essentially started when Morén and Yttling were childhood friends who shared a love of ’60s pop and played in various projects before Eriksson joined them on drums. They didn’t have a clear road map when they first started making music, and that was part of the appeal.
“We just wanted to make classic pop songs in any kind of style. We had a pretty open agenda. It was OK to be eclectic,’’ Morén says. “That’s partly why we picked the name, which really isn’t a name. It’s our names. We wanted to keep it open so we could play folk music or heavy metal.’’
Looking back on “Young Folks,’’ Morén says it feels like destiny that the song would finally propel them onto a world stage.
“When we started working on [‘Writer’s Block’], we were kind of tired of working with the band. We put a lot of effort into the first two records and quite a lot of money, too, and nothing really came out of it,’’ he says. “We said, we’re going to do one more record and see what happens. I think it was really appropriate [that we had a hit]; otherwise, maybe the band wouldn’t have been around now.’’
Morén says he’s obviously glad he and his bandmates stuck it out, but admits the story of Peter Bjorn and John could have taken another road.
“I think if we all started a band today, we would probably pick other people because we all have different tastes,’’ he says. “But as it is, we have a certain chemistry when we start playing. It sounds good immediately. We bring in different things to the band, which becomes a creative, sometimes argumentative atmosphere. But the end product becomes the sum of three people.’’
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.