Music

Peter Bjorn and John: Writers Block

An album of triumphantly appealing tunes about love -- and yeah, there's that song "Young Folks", too -- from indie pop outfit Peter Bjorn and John


Peter Bjorn and John

Writer's Block

Label: Almost Gold
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2006-08-14
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Peter Bjorn and John seem to be the latest Swedish pop group in an illustrious line -– Jens Lekman, Love Is All, The Knife –- to take New York by storm (next up, to the chagrin of the band itself, it's likely to be I'm From Barcelona). You could be forgiven, after the hubbub "Young Folks" raised last year, in thinking the group are blog-fueled debutantes; but it turns out that Peter Moren, Bjorn Yttling and John Erikkson have been making music together for the past eight years. Writer's Block is their third album, and it shows a group both confident, with an established dynamic, and beaming in the light of their most triumphantly appealing effort.

So why was "Young Folks" such a phenomenon? Partly because it fit in so well, in the U.S., with the news that Victoria Bergsman had quit her old lot, the Concretes, for a solo career. Then along she comes guesting on this perfect pop song –- with whistling! –- and it captured enough of a mood to have a thousand kids' earphone-clad heads bouncing on the subway between Williamsburg and Delancey. The melody in question -– the whistle -– is a simple pentatonic triad, almost a second grader’s playground taunt, but turned addictive as hell. It’s not a wonder the song was NME’s second best of 2006 -– if you haven’t heard it, “Young Folks” alone justifies Writer’s Block’s asking price.

And despite critics' appropriations, the reason Writer's Block as a whole is so successful is that it's far more than "Young Folks", and far more than straight pop. Bjorn Yttling's production unites the different compositional emphases (all three members wrote songs for the album, and take turns on lead vocals, too), and brings out different pockets of sound in a way that’s diametrically opposed to pop’s characteristic smoothed-over sheen. Specifically, Peter Bjorn and John cultivate a sense of space that is beguiling; drums bounce and fade, vocal lines are either shrouded in echo or separated from the mix to create definitive pockets of sound: vocals, guitars, drums. Added to this, many of these songs don’t prioritize verse-chorus in the same way as traditional pop songs: instead, as on “Up Against the Wall”, melodic snippets of vocal or guitar melody are looped, as if the group can’t help but celebrate this scrap of gorgeous sound it happened on.

The group also likes to have fun with percussion -– from the maraca-onomatopoeia of “Chills” to the warm steelpan of “Let’s Call It Off”, in the single mix that is included on the U.S. release. On the better tracks, such as “The Object of My Affection”, you don't notice the martial rhythm until right at the end, when it emerges and you realise it's been driving the song from the beginning.

On the best of these songs, all these elements seem to coalesce into gloriously sweet, summer-pop perfection. “Let’s Call It Off”, the album’s second single, brings out the chorus with syncopated guitar strums, a neat contrast to the longer lines of the verse. “Amsterdam” is a stoned rock like Demon Days wished it could have achieved, a swirling loop of regret and hazy reminiscence. This Casablanca-esque romantic trope –- “Remember Paris?” -– also fuels “Paris 2004”, a (bitter) sweet (love) song that’s all acoustic strum and romance.

The characters in Peter Bjorn and John songs are usually in love, usually to the exclusion of everything. On “Paris 2004” the protagonist signs “I’m all about you / You’re all about me / We’re all about each other”; the young folk of “Young Folks” just want to be “talking, only me and you”; and on “Roll the Credits”, “It’s between me and her now / Can’t separate at all." In the same sense as that John Donne sonnet, love fills Peter Bjorn and John’s musical world until nothing else is worth commenting on: and seemingly without effort, the group makes even the most hard-hearted listener appreciate anew the simple, continually attractive fuel of indie-pop. You may not care about the old folks, but you should care about Peter Bjorn and John.

8

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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