Peter Bjorn and John, 'Living Thing' (Almost Gold/Startime)

Critical Mass
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by Melissa Maerz

Two years ago, this Swedish trio scored an international smash with "Young Folks," an indie-pop sleeper so relentlessly upbeat that everyone from Kanye West to Budweiser whistled its refrain. But now, as fans await another breezy hit, PB&J take a dark turn, as if consumed by success-story guilt. With spare electro beats and aching confessions -- "I can laugh if I want to / But it won't make me happy" -- Living Thing won't double as anyone's dance-party playlist. But it's an uneasy, bracingly honest soundtrack to life after fame.

Blame Metallica. While PB&J were writing this album, they released 2007's instrumental Seaside Rock, which they referred to as a form of "therapy" and "our Some Kind of Monster," later admitting to punching each other during mixing sessions. But with samples of Cabaret Voltaire and Suicide, it also reignited their love of artfully damaged electronic music -- an influence that still haunts them. "Losing My Mind" is all broken wind-chime clangs, while "Nothing to Worry About" begins innocently enough with a children's choir, but warbles around so woozily that the title begins to sound menacing. The radio-catchy "Lay It Down" features skull-cracking synths and a chorus of "Hey, shut the fuck up, boy!" Not a savvy career move, but for a band who've been covered by Top 40 schmaltz king James Blunt, there's a better word for it: brave.

WATCH: Peter Bjorn and John, "Nothing to Worry About"

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