Spin Control

February 25, 2007



    Peter Bjorn and John, "Writer's Block" (Almost Gold)

    Critic's rating: 3 and a half stars

    The comma-deprived Swedish trio of guitarist-vocalist Peter Morén, bassist-vocalist Bjorn Yttling and drummer-vocalist John Erikkson has been building a following in the indie-rock world for its lilting folk-pop since 1999, but its third album is being greeted as a breakthrough for two reasons: a more varied sonic palette and genre-hopping production that has indie fans raving -- and which somewhat mitigates the band's tendency toward tweeness -- and the boost that the combo got from the song "Young Folks" becoming a minor hit after it was featured on "Grey's Anatomy" last fall.

    On these 11 tracks, PB&J (as fans call them with a chuckle) do benefit from beefing up their earlier gentility with bursts of shoegazer noise guitar, vintage Kraftwerk synthesizers ("Amsterdam"), a little of that ubiquitous New Order disco groove ("Up Against the Wall") and studio flourishes such as steel drums, tubular bells and whistled refrains, all while maintaining the fragile vocals that have been a trademark. But the disc really succeeds because of the sophisticated songwriting, which examines relationships from the viewpoints of, among others, a smitten lover ("Paris 2004," which finds the singer imagining that "While I'm sleeping you paint a ring on my finger with your black marker pen") and someone in search of a quick hook-up ("Young Folks" includes the line, "If I told you things I did before / Told you how I used to be / Would you go home with someone like me?").



    Tim Fite, "Over the Counter Culture" (timfite.com)

    Critic's rating: 3 and a half stars

    Over the course of a singularly strange career, rubber-faced, Brooklyn based conceptualist Tim Fite has been a novelty rapper -- he was half of Little-T and One Track Mike, a duo that scored a goofy 2001 hit with "Shaniqua" -- and a postmodern, post-Beck acoustic bluesman/protest singer who reinvented and reintroduced himself with the memorable 2005 Anti-/Epitaph album, "Gone Ain't Gone." On his new release, he unexpectedly combines both approaches -- and that isn't even the most surprising thing.

    As befits a concept album comprising a searing indictment of rampant consumerism -- especially as it infects hip-hop -- and which hints that the end result of this addiction to bling is a nation of zombies who've blindly been led to war, Fite is practicing what he preaches by refusing to sell his new music: The album is available only as a free download via his Web site and several others, though his label is still supporting him by promoting it, clearly hoping that this disc will continue to build his profile so that they can sell the next one.

    It would be easy to dismiss this as the latest shot in the digital revolution and just another attention-grabbing gimmick, if the music didn't put the lie to the notion that you can't get anything good for free. Over the sort of wonderfully inventive, mood-laden grooves that marked the sort of pre-hype hip-hop that first made Fite a fan -- De La Soul or the Beastie Boys of "Paul's Boutique" -- the artist unleashes wickedly funny rhymes that suggest what Eminem could be if he applied his sharp tongue to the direction suggested by "Mosh," and if he had a fraction of the real anger flashed by Chuck D.

    This is to say that there are plenty of laughs in Fite's grooves -- witness the 50 Cent-mocking "I've Been Shot," which finds him confessing, "Every now and then I ask somebody to graze me / Just shoot me a little bit, make it look good / Not every rapper does it, but every rapper should" -- but even more food for thought, as when he critiques camouflaged designer jeans as "a fashion statement from a fascist nation," morphing from a customer asking for a shopping bag to a horrified protestor watching the flow of body bags.