Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John have been making music for almost 20 years. Formed in 1999, they have seven studio albums behind them, Darker Days landing as their eighth. In those two decades, they’ve matured to a rock sound and cropped out plenty of catchy indie pop, too—”Young Folks” remains one of the great alt pop gems of the ‘00s. On Darker Days, however, PB&J play to those catchy tendencies, but the results sound more like overdue swan songs than earworms.
The album opens with a relaxed intro and “One for the Team,” a shimmery toe-tapper which sounds more glam rock than Peter Bjorn and John’s token indie pop. Bongos, persistent keys and sleek vocal layering make it one of the brighter listens on Darker Days.
“Gut Feeling” takes cues from Imagine Dragon’s radio rock-pop, folding in some iffy AutoTune and even the occasional whistle. While I’ll hand it to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” (“Young Folks”), whistles rarely sound good in pop songs and, it doesn’t work especially well here, either.
“Living a Dream” sounds like a Beatles knock-off with some added 21st century sparkle. The first chorus goes “In the backseat of the car / That you’re attempting to drive / Information doesn’t stick,” and the song goes much the same, its clinks and chords never quite adhering. “Sick and Tired” sounds a bit like if The 1975 decided to experiment with synthy new wave. Heavy, Devo-esque synth bars give the song some tangibility, but the lyrics fall flat.
“Wrapped Around the Axle” has some of the biggest sounds on the album. It’s another lyrical snooze, but a chiming electro harp adds some energy. The track’s different, and sometimes competing, sonic effects make it feel tinged with world music—the Egyptian-esque harp meshes with Greek-like guitar lines that could pass for a bouzouki. “Silicon Valley Blues” takes on a sweeping arena rock sound, something Peter Bjorn and John haven’t done much of but pull off well on this song. Creaking doom effects help to create a dark mood, too, as Peter, Bjorn and John sing mysteriously about a “social psychopath / all decked out in the bath.” The album lets out a final exhale with “Heaven and Hell,” a soft glaze-of-song that marches along with collected intensity.
Though it slips occasionally into a humdrum loop, Darker Days is a solid indie rock album that’s sure to please PB&J’s fans as much as your run-of-the-mill radio listener. It’s cool, effortless guitar music made “Darker” by foreboding lyrics and at-times menacing production. Though they’re already on album number eight, Peter Bjorn and John at least sound spirited enough to release eight more.
Watch Peter Bjorn and John perform in the Paste studios in 2016 below: