Three monumental towers stand shoulder to shoulder,
proudly dwarfing the solitary writer below. We have no need
of the white skywriting to understand that these edifices represent
Peter, Bjorn and John. Writer's Block? Not a bit of it. You
see it's their little joke. "We have three writers," they claim, "and
it makes us colossal!"
Top marks then for the clever artwork concept, but what of
the music? Chances are you landed on this page after hearing
PB&J's delightful Young Folks? How does the old cliché go?
You must have been living on Mars (get there while you can,
because I hear real estate prices are soaring!) to have missed
it. The one with the dreamy, call and response, boy-girl lyrics.
Yes, the one with THAT whistling! Even if you haven't (for
whatever planetary excuse you might offer), there's every chance
you'll groan with recognition when you play the album for the
first time. Recognition and begrudging enjoyment -- like reaching
the punch line to a bad joke.
A song like Young Folks can be a double-edged sword.
As memorable as it unquestionably is, it might also give the
subconscious impression that it is a one-off and that other
PB&J material simply cannot measure up. Which brings you here,
hoping that I might say, "well actually there are plenty of
aces." Well actually, yes they have managed to match the quality
of Young Folks while infusing copious variety. Writer's
Block is a delightful little collection.
Objects Of My Affection kick starts the album, a confident
homage to Dylan and an equally confident placing. Amsterdam meanwhile
is yet another demented, earworm melody. Hear it once, and
you'll never be able to shift it from your memory. Or never
want to. "Amsterdam was stuck in my mind," Bjorn cheekily informs
us. Yeah, we know the feeling!
There are times I get the impression PB&J would have been
at home on late 80s Creation label, if not Sarah Records. Tracks
such as Start To Melt hint at this -- loving sixties
pastiche with layers of Shoegaze effects. Then two of my favourites, Up
Against the Wall and Paris 2004. The first opens
with New Order (Age of consent) guitar before flowering
into a Wedding Present melody that never was. Paris 2004 is
all about the trip-you-up drum beat and the story, a delicious
tale of holiday romance and that getting to know each other
feeling. Adolescent and completely in keeping with the music,
this is indie heaven.
Can they sustain this quality? Almost. The Chills sees
us revisit Power Corruption and Lies again. Lose
a mark for the same trick. Get one back for championing New
Zealand's finest. (The Chills). Then we're onto rolling the
credits, literally, with the final two songs. Both are a bit
of a dirge. Poor Cow in particular, is a depressed,
hacienda strum, although sadly not the Factory Records kind.
So it dips a little at the end, suffering perhaps from the
quality of what came before. Overall though Writer's
Block is a triumph. With its lazy, catchy, sixties
harmonics and wrapped in late-eighties psyche-fuzz, it provides
the essential soundtrack to a student gap-year romance.
Back-packing around Europe has never been so much fun.