With a stable of blockbuster producers in tow, Peter Bjorn and John reach indie pop nirvana on their seventh collection of upbeat, hook-driven bubblegum.
In a time of heightened genre-hybridization and a fractured pop culture mainstream, marquee pop producers are more in demand than ever, not only by superstar rock bands, pop singers and rappers, but especially by up-and-coming indie talent looking for a boost of commercial viability. After 17 years of activity, this is the approach Swedish indie band Peter Bjorn and John have taken for their latest album, Breakin’ Point, by appointing an unprecedented level of talented (and expensive) producers -- including Adele’s most frequent collaborator Paul Epworth and Lana Del Rey and Eminem hitmaker Emile Haynie -- to helm their upbeat, hook-driven indie pop.
If this jump into high-powered, fiscally-conscious big business seems like a scary proposition to longtime fans, it shouldn’t. Few would be as well suited to receive the pro-heavyweight-producer treatment as Peter Bjorn and John, who now have seven albums of decadent, sugar-rush pop under their belt, including something near a decade of their music as a staple on TV advertisements and college rock radio. Breakin’ Point is about as seamless as a collaboration between these two worlds could be, finding the band basking in rich arrangements and meticulously calibrated mixes to an extent they’ve never known before. By buying into these partnerships, Peter Bjorn and John have allowed themselves to draw out the effortless joys of their music for an immediate accessibility that does their style well.
“Dominos” and “Love Is What You Want” open up the album with the incessant pulse of disco rhythms and vocalist Peter Morén going after a classic ‘70s pop falsetto, immediately tailoring the band’s familiar edges to fit the more comfortable dance terrain of today’s pop landscape. “Do-Si-Do” introduces the backing of acoustic guitar for a classic Peter Bjorn and John flavor, complimented later by the tinkling piano and scuzzy drum sounds of the sparse but catchy title track. Whether aiming more conventionally or tacked to more familiar territory, Breakin’ Point is the kind of album where just a single listen could get any of the songs stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Spiritually, the record hews very closely to Peter Bjorn and John’s typical ethos with shimmering, uptempo pop grounded by melancholic lyrics. “A Long Goodbye” is the album’s most sentimental moment that finds Morén lamenting the disorientation of love and love lost (“A long goodbye / It’s all confusion and lies / Why can’t we make it short?”), while even the album’s closer, one of the record’s most sonically cheerful numbers, insists on the refrain, “People call you a star / Pretty dumb, pretty lame”. It shows that the fundamental essence of Peter Bjorn and John is sturdier than ever, even on an album with such grand pop ambitions as this.
Essentially what this means is, beyond its vastly improved production value, Breakin’ Point doesn’t quite signify the same kind of inspiring creative transformation signalled by comparable modern indie pop classics like Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob or Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz!; it’s exactly the kind of music Peter Bjorn and John have always revelled in, just somewhat more consistent. In terms of pop composition and recording quality, Breakin’ Point is inarguably a high point, but its considerable pleasures are unfortunately fleeting. “I’ll always see the fireworks in your eyes,” Morén calls on “Hard Sleep”, utilizing an ironically apt image to describe the beautiful, brightly-burning ephemerality of the record. It’s lovely while it lasts, but it isn’t long.