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Writer's Block

  Peter, Bjorn and John  
  Wichita Recordings  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Brett Spaceman  

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.

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