Although Swedish indie-pop has been on an upswing over the past couple of years, and though the eclectic trio Peter Bjorn And John made a strong impression with its first two albums, its Writer's Block is still a surprising, assured step forward. As likeable as quasi-retro folk-rock can be, it's essentially a sound for connoisseurs who get off on the evocation of once-fashionable musical moods. Writer's Block, though, rolls by like it's on its way from the past to the future, trailing a cloud of bongos and whistles. Peter Bjorn And John carve out a unique sonic space, simultaneously cavernous and intimate, and they don't overdecorate. Aside from the post-intro opening song "Objects Of My Affection," which has the relentless percussive force of a freight train, the songs on Writer's Block are wide open, making good use of emptiness.
They're also infectiously catchy, as anyone who's been walking around humming "Young Folks" since it became an Internet hit last year can attest. While earlier Peter Bjorn And John songs sounded underwritten and underperformed, new songs like the seven-minute vamp "Up Against The Wall" and the Oz-pop homage "The Chills" strew sparkly fragments of melody across elegantly spare instrumental tracks that combine the organic and the mechanical. The band has smartened up, and now it's playing to its strengths. Writer's Block gets docked a couple of points for being more frivolously impressive than deep, but a line in "Objects Of My Affection" describes the liberating effect of breezy, off-beat pop music played with this kind of confidence: "I laugh more often now / I cry more often now / I am more free."