This year’s release from Sweden’s Peter Björn and John is the band’s most wham-bam record yet. Case in point: 2007’s Writer’s Block clocks in at over 51 minutes, while Breakin’ Point takes listeners for a 38(ish)-minute whirlwind. Awash with disco beats, sweet hooks, harmonies, sweeping melodies, and videogame bleeps from the ’80s, each of the 12 tracks are packaged in perfectly sized pop singles. Even the band’s breakout hit “Young Folks” is 4:39, whereas you won’t find a single track off Breakin’ that hits the four-minute mark. And that’s precisely what the trio — Björn Yttling, Peter Morén, and John Eriksson — went into the studio to do.
“We wanted to make songs that had more parts, bridges, hooks — sort of campfires songs that you can sing along to on a guitar,” Yttling tells us on the phone from Stockholm. “When we wrote songs, for example, for Writers Block or Gimme Some, it was more of a different vibe. There could be a seven, eight-minute-long song with a long groove, but we didn’t want to go for that this time. We didn’t even want to do a short song with just one part repeating but a more broad pop sound.”
The three wrote Breakin’ Point together in sessions with only their guitars and note-taking devices, an approach far more simplistic than with previous records. “So before I think the music may have been more eclectic,” Yttling says. “Some songs would have been written with the three of us sitting down with our guitars, and some songs would have been done with a beat in the studio or even a jam in a rehearsal space — so [Breakin’ Point] is a one-trick pony in that sense. But we figured if we do it that way, we can deliberately do [each song] in different styles.”
The songs’ differing styles — from bursts of danceable pop to sentimental sing-alongs — got that way with a little help from a crew of different producers. Yet Breakin’ Point remains cohesive, because the songwriting method was consistent. Determined to steer clear of relying solely on the power of rock and electric-guitar solos, the band first employed two producers in Sweden. But a few months after finishing a few songs, they decided to trash it all and start anew. “They weren’t up to par,” Yttling says. “They just weren’t good enough so we had to start some songs over again and bring in more fresh producers.”
And by more, he means five producers who collectively helmed Breakin’ Point, giving the collection that varied personality that just works. But the band certainly gave them plenty to work with, looking to anthems from eras past as the framework for what would become a memorable masterpiece. “We looked into some songs that people don’t usually brag about — like ‘Moonlight Shadow’ [Mike Oldfield’s 1983 pop-rocker] — you know, big songs, big tunes,” Yttling says. “Or, like, songs by Dire Straits or ‘Cecilia’ by Simon & Garfunkel — songs that we all know and love. And they’re so strong. The melody and the lyrics are so strong, and sometimes you can’t even remember what they sound like, but you know them by heart anyway.”
As Yttling tries to sum up — in under 10 minutes — the story of an album that’s been a part of Peter Björn and John’s lives for a year and a half, a dog begins to bark persistently in the background and the interview winds down. And though there’s little time left, we do manage a quick game of — because, what the hell? — Mad Libs. Yep, Mad Libs. And so before ya know it, we’re discussing the meanings of adjectives, verbs, and plural nouns.
And voilà. Here’s Yttling’s breakdown of a Dancing through the Decades-themed Mad Libs — his first ever Mad Libs experience, might we add [dusts off shoulders]:
Dancing has always been a GREEN pastime for the young and COLD. In the 1950s, CANADIAN GEESE loved to go to SCARF hops and do the KNEE CAP jive. In the ’60s, it was The Twist — where you perform BORING dance moves while swinging your EYES from side to side. In the 1970s, dancers would disco under a glittery disco CAR while wearing polyester CLOUDS. In the ’80s, it was truly TALL to break-dance — where you do fancy FINGERTIP work and spin on your NECK. In the SHINY ’90s, hip-hop and rap dominated the music STEPS, and brought along with them a funky, SQUARE-style of dance — not to mention the popular style of wearing lots of SHADY chains and rings. Although dance crazes change with each decade, one DOMINO remains the same: Dancing will always provide a DRY time if you just let loose and FALL to the music.