Fourteen years ago, the deliriously infectious hook and carefree whistling on “Young Folks” introduced the world to Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson, members of the then-relatively unknown indie pop/rock band known collectively as Peter Bjorn and John. The band’s 2006 breakthrough, Writer’s Block — an excellent record packed to the brim with a wide range of bright, bold, inescapable songs — propelled Peter Bjorn and John into the stratosphere, rendering the band members indie-rock heavyweights. Writer’s Block showcased the band’s willingness to reach for a more expansive, varied sound, with great success. Although the band’s following records failed to achieve the same level of acclaim, the Stockholm-based trio continued to push its musical boundaries in search of catchy tunes. Endless Dream, the group’s ninth album and latest release, furthers this drive for exploration with mixed results.
Endless Dream marks the 20th anniversary of Peter Bjorn and John. The band’s last album, 2018’s Darker Days, saw the group take a more spontaneous approach to its music. Gloomy lyrics and off-kilter arrangements gave the reliably sweet melodies of Darker Days a more interesting edge, suggesting a new direction for the band. In contrast, Endless Dream is a highly optimistic record, reflecting on the group’s history and the next chapter in Peter Bjorn and John’s musical career. In an interview with Spin, Morén described the central theme of the album, as depicted by its cover art: “The unattainable endless dream. Will you ever reach the top of the mountain?”
But on its quest to answer this question, Endless Dream ultimately ventures into the ordinary.
Opening track “Music” finds Peter Bjorn and John in the band’s signature groove, the swagger-filled beat and layered vocals working together in harmony. The song’s lyrics describe the band’s formative experience of falling in love with its craft, the trio singing, “Every time there’s music/ It’s going to be all or nothing at all/ Turn it up.” Although the song is admirable in its sentiments, its lyrics fail to move beyond cliche, instead coming across as repetitive and plain.
On “Reason to Be Reasonable,” Morén sets the emotional tone for the rest of the record, delivering his signature vocals over a thumping disco beat. The optimism of the song establishes a sense of warmth intended to carry throughout the entire record. Unfortunately, this energy is dulled throughout the record’s run time, with the trio seeming to struggle to revive and cling to anything captivating. Although most songs show some sort of promise and potential, they fail to resolve into anything substantial or memorable. Therein lies the problem with Endless Dream; it is an album with an ample supply of good intentions, but not enough interesting ideas.
When Endless Dream works, it works well. “Rusty Nail” takes a departure from the optimistic, instead centering on the frustrations of always coming up short. The song’s sense of dissatisfaction, accentuated by electronic vocals and small production glitches, provides relief from the saccharine nature of the rest of the world, highlighting the trio’s refusal to be complacent. “Drama King,” produced by Eriksson, is unusually catchy, riding an eccentric rhythm with sparse, whining guitars and moody bass to great effect.
Bucking the need for safe crowd-pleasers, left-field tracks like “Drama King” and “Weekend” also stand out for their unexpected restraint and low-end grooves, once again capturing a sense of a new direction that’s often missing from the album. But these songs provide only glimpses of a new, exciting path, leaving more to be desired.
This deep in their careers, the members of Peter Bjorn and John are still working their absolute hardest to produce top-notch indie pop. Endless Dream serves as the latest effort in continuing the band’s evolving legacy. On closing track “On The Brink,” Morén muses about the band’s aspirations for the record, revealing, “I’ve been trying hard/ To let it in.”
Although much of the record fails to reach the heights of previous Peter Bjorn and John releases, the group’s willingness to continue pushing onward in pursuit of what it loves is admirable. Peter Bjorn and John may not land every hit, but the band members’ undeniable optimism and continued dedication encourages us to commend them for trying.