That Whistling Band – Peter Bjorn and John Stay True To Indie Pop Formula With ‘Darker Days’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Given they’re best known to most people as “that band that did the whistling song”, it’s easy to underestimate the loyal following Peter Bjorn and John have. The Swedish indie-pop trio may have faded from many’s consciousnesses – ‘Young Folks’ was 12 years ago after all – but they’d been busily hoarding fans across Europe well before that mega-hit and, remarkably, has been steadily turning out consistent – if somewhat unremarkable – records in the years since. Fans may have had to wait five years for previous release Breakin’ Point, but as with the proverbial London buses, two short years later and we have the release of their eighth studio effort, Darker Days.

Everything around it initially points to a shift away from the bright and catchy indie-pop the band is known for – and that’s true to a degree. The title spells its intentions out pretty clearly, playing on imagery no doubt very familiar to the trio come this time of year in the great north of the world; while the cover art – a white triangle constructed of three broken bones against a black background – hints at an unseen frailty, slight doubt in a triumvirate that’s been a source of strength over the years. It’s there in the lyrics as they sing of a “gut feeling that something’s wrong”, “running with the devil” and world leaders taking us back to the dark ages while we tend gardens with wool in our ears. But it all feels a bit of a red herring when the hooks kick in and you find yourself humming along to choruses on their second run. Sure, some sulky synths and minor chords bring a moodier atmosphere at times throughout, but in the end, this is the band that made it big off the back of a catchy-as-hell whistled melody and they can’t ignore the indie-pop sensibilities that are their bread and butter.  

They don’t mess around either. Opener ‘Longer Nights’ might be a pretty instrumental, but the pop hook of ‘One For the Team’ launches the album in all its sing-a-long glory and they don’t let up. ‘Gut Feeling’ might sing of things being wrong but its vocoder falsetto chorus is oh so right, while ‘Sick And Tired’ plays with the synth-heavy RnB formula rampant in modern pop in clever and subverted ways. In many ways, this is what you wished mainstream commercial pop had evolved into. These are songs built on now ubiquitous tricks of call and echoes, big hooks and catchy choruses; but are underpinned by a sincere sense of creativity and musicianship. The trio genuinely loves their songs and, rather than any ‘sold out’ blandness dictated by commercial demands, it feels like genuine love and care have gone into their crafting.

Therein lie Peter Bjorn and John’s biggest issue. They seem to reside in the space between two behemoths of popular music. A bit too pop for the hipster juggernaut and its pseudo-weird psychedelic battering ram but just a bit too indie and off-kilter and all written by the wrong Swede for the commercial appeal of mainstream pop (sorry Max Martin). This, of course, assumes the band’s pursuit of immense popularity which is probably unfair. If Darker Days is anything to go by, the trio is still enjoying themselves and the nice little niche they’ve carved. The days might seem like their getting darker, but for Peter Bjorn and John and their fans, you get the sense they’ll always find the light.

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