A collection of unified and self-aware tracks that subverts expectation and strides headlong into darker climbs.
With their latest, eighth (!) album, Darker Days, Peter Bjorn and John find themselves looking inwards, around at others, and globally at everyone. With each member taking charge of the songwriting and production for their own selection of songs on the album, there are clear distinctions that can be made between sets of tracks, but ultimately a clear unity to the whole work. It’s a quasi-concept – more thematic than story-based, with each song relating back clearly to the title of the work as a whole: Darker Days
The tracks on the album are, at first glance, bright and peppy, with rolling drums lines and bright riffs running alongside soaring vocals and vast melodies. It’s an effect that takes on all the more power when instruments drop in and out of the mix and accentuate their own jarring nature when presented unadorned. Of course, the contrast is even more clear through the lyrics. Lines such as “I need a ghostwriter/To make my words brighter” (‘Every Other Night’), “And I’m afraid to talk to you/ I’m hoping that a text will do” (‘Silicon Valley Blues’), and “I can't complain when no one's listening” (‘Gut Feeling’) really bring out the titular darkness of the album. The effect of the contrast brings about a sense of hope. The album is cynical and afraid, but upwards-looking – one that wishes to point out so much in the world that is wrong, but also feels positive, as if it might be possible to fix everything.
Having been together for nigh on two decades, with Peter Bjorn and John each sharing songwriting, production, instrumental, and vocal responsibilities, the band has a clear sound and style. Especially on Darker Days
, there is an explosion of standards and an undermining of the listener’s expectations. With a clear pop and pop-rock sensibility to the melodies and instrumentation, there’s a self-awareness and understanding of the ‘norm’ such that melodies and instruments are skewed and played with just so to remove the songs from classic pop identity.
The unfortunate effect, however, of the defined sound of Peter Bjorn and John is a lack of distinction at times, between songs, sonically. The musical palette of the album is clearly defined up front and rarely strays; vocals can be expected to jump at unexpected moments, and the music will roll along with brief forays into instrumental passages. The most effective tracks of the album are those that do a little more to differentiate themselves from the lot, particularly the final three tracks. While ‘Sick and Tired’ may never, musically, reach the bombastic heights expected from the vocal height, the guitar solo’s burbling skittishness is a glorious moment. ‘Silicon Valley Blues’ brings in a noise-outro that combines music and various recordings that are all pushed to the back but muted and indecipherable, but, most importantly given the track’s references to date recording and lack of privacy, recorded. Then, album closer ‘Heaven And Hell,’ brings in a four-minute outro that scampers around through samples and keyboard like a child carefully stabbing away at a keyboard or synth that they don’t quite know how to play, it’s erratic and confusing and the perfect end to such a contrasting album.
'Darker Days' by Peter Bjorn and John is released on October 19th - via Ingrid Records