Peter Bjorn and John Avoid Bland Clunkers on ‘Breakin’ Point’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

 Seven albums into their career, Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John continue to fine-tune their style of infectious indie pop. Though the band’s major breakthrough – both commercially and critically – was 2006’s Writer’s Block (“Young Folks”), in some ways 2011’s Gimme Some was their peak. Though not as eccentric as the earlier records, Gimme Some made their unique sound more accessible without sacrificing any artistry.

Breakin’ Point picks up where the band left off by delivering twelve hook-laden pop tracks that entertain from start to finish. The album is made up of intricate melodies and energizing rhythms, along with big, sing-along choruses that lodge themselves firmly in your head. Breakin’ Point is less guitar-dominated than its predecessor, often allowing Peter Morén’s guitar to take a back seat to the vocals or Bjorn Yttling’s keyboards.

The album’s title track is its catchiest number, with a whistled motif being mirrored on keyboard and a shimmering propulsive chorus that finds Morén looking for inspiration. “Been running on empty; I leave it all in your hands. Now show me what to do,” he says. The jangling New Wave synthesizers and hummed background vocals of “Nostalgic Intellect” give the song an alien feeling as Morén sings of withdrawing into denial. “I’m locking myself in the old world,” he says. “Nothing’s changed on the home turf,” he lies to himself.

“Hard Sleep” is a dynamic pop song that thrives on its ebbs and flows. Slow choruses with sparse piano give way to fast choruses featuring layers of instruments. It is the building of those sonic layers that makes Peter Bjorn and John special. Even soft ballads like “Between the Lines” rely on the slow build from minimalism to musically dense instrumentation.

Album opener “Dominos” rivals the title track for Breakin’ Point’s biggest earworm. With its dancehall beat, hand claps and drops along with falsetto harmonies and tempo shifts, it dumps out a whole bag of tricks and all of them work. The song’s hooks make up for the fact that it has the album’s worst lyrics (“I go snap, crack, pop” and later “rattle and roll my soul” are the worst offenders).

While Breakin’ Point is not as innovative as Writer’s Block and may be a small step back from Gimme Some, Peter Bjorn and John continue to craft consistently exciting pop rock while generally avoiding bland clunkers. In the world of pop music, that’s accomplishing something.

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