Sweetness and Light

The Swedish indie-pop trio Peter BjŲrn and John write tales of sweetness and heartbreak on its breakthrough album.

The success of 2006's Writer's Block coincided with the group's decision to share lead vocal duties among all three members and embark on extensive tours. The latter has helped the band earn a reputation for live performances that transcend its recorded material. Many of the songs are treated with new arrangements, such as Björn's signature number "Amsterdam," which is stripped down to a rumbling bass and snare drum, Peter's whistling, Björn's baritone — and yes, maracas. "Young Folks" yields an impressive display of musical dexterity from Peter, in which he simultaneously plays maracas, bounces around the stage and produces a perfectly pitched whistle.

"You don't want to just hear a copy of the album when you go to a live show," Björn says. "We try to use a bit more improvisation. We've played together for eight years, we know each other, so at the spur of moment we can come up with stuff."

He also explains how the band's shift to more accessible song structures on Writer's Block aided its rise in popularity. "We play in a more consequential way now," he says. "We don't fool around with the basic pattern or structure like we used to. This record we tried to do more like Devo, more of a pattern of a hip-hop dance-y feel to everything. We didn't want any surprises in the last part of a song. It makes the song stronger in a way, you get the overall feel [of the song] and you never lose that."

Peter Bjorn and John: Whistlin', workin'.
Peter Bjorn and John: Whistlin', workin'.
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But while the production that creates the band's sparkly indie-pop sound is clearly self-conscious, the divergent lyrics that ultimately define Writer's Block are less deliberate. "We write about things that have happened in our lives," Björn says. "We didn't really have a plan with lyrics beforehand — but it seemed when you put it all together, it was kind of a cohesive thing. That's always something that happens after, even if you didn't plan it."

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