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POP MUSIC

Whistling along

The Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John get a burst of momentum from puckering up for a jaunty song.

February 01, 2007|August Brown | Times Staff Writer

IF the Swedish pop trio Peter Bjorn and John end their careers as one-hit wonders, they can probably blame the whistling. The airy, carefree melody that starts the song "Young Folks" is threatening to become more recognizable than the band itself.

The hook -- courtesy of producer and multi-instrumentalist Bjorn Yttling -- is one of the finest moments on the trio's third album, "Writer's Block." The whistling was intended as a temporary placeholder in the song's arrangements. Instead, it ended up on a "Grey's Anatomy" episode and broke the ice for more budding hipster couples in 2006 than "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" and the photo booth at Cha Cha Lounge combined.

Though the trio slyly parodied their typecasting in the video for "Young Folks" (where a boy teaches his girlfriend to whistle the tune before suggesting "My place?"), the band will soon have to face the most perplexing question of its career. How do you keep the momentum after penning one of the year's most unexpected indie-pop anthems?

"It does worry us a bit; it can take the focus away from the band as a whole," singer-guitarist Peter Moren said. "But we can't complain. It's the one downside of having a hit."

The answer, of course, is the same as it's always been for an ambitious young rock group -- put out a great album and tour like crazy. The first part happens on Tuesday, when "Writer's Block" finally gets released in America. Though the album has been in Scandinavian stores since May on V2 Records, in the U.S. it will be the first release on Almost Gold, a new label founded by Isaac Green of StarTime International and Scott Rodger, manager of Bjork and Arcade Fire. Even though the band is on a crest of great stateside publicity (including a "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" performance), there are plenty of difficulties implicit in breaking a foreign band in America on a brand-new label.

"Nothing these days is a safe bet," Green said. "Nowadays it's much more random and difficult for labels. You have to accept a certain amount of uncertainty."

A new label would be hard-pressed to find a more reliable flagship than Peter Bjorn and John, however.

"Writer's Block" is packed with potential singles like the jaunty, heartsick "Paris 2004" and "Let's Call It Off," along with thoughtful diversions into chilly Kraut-rock and blissful guitar thrash. And though "Young Folks" seemed to come out of nowhere for American ears, the band has been somewhat of a Swedish institution since forming in 1999.

Yttling owns a popular recording studio in the group's hometown of Stockholm, where he recorded "Writer's Block" and produced and arranged for Nicolai Dunger, Shout Out Louds and Camera Obscura.

The trio released two full-lengths before "Writer's Block" (including the excellent "Falling Out"), but even the band acknowledges that this is, for all purposes, their worldwide debut.

"This is the first time we've had a proper record deal," Moren said. "I love the first two albums, but they didn't even get a lot of distribution in Sweden. Every penny went to making the next record; we didn't have any money to promote them."

THE first round of American promotion for "Writer's Block" is a three-date tour, which stops at the Roxy tonight with ex-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman (the female half of the duet on "Young Folks") joining them. The tour is their first venture outside of Europe and a practice run for a more thorough American tour to come this spring. The modest, self-deprecating band is still a bit astonished that it can sell out well-known American venues on reputation alone.

"Rumors spread so fast these days, it's easy for someone to see something in an American magazine or on the Internet," drummer John Eriksson said. "We're not a hit-making band, so we were so happy to come and sell out places in New York."

But like it or not, the band does have a hit of sorts.

"Maybe in 10 years we'll be one-hit wonders," Moren said. "But that's OK. It comes down to what sticks out. We aren't so cool, no one knows who we are."

august.brown@latimes.com

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Peter Bjorn and John

Where: The Roxy, 9009 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 8 tonight

Price: $15 (sold out)

Info: (310) 278-9457; www.theroxyonsunset.com

Watch: The "Young Folks" video at www.peterbjornandjohn.com

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