From the end of 2006 through just about now, Peter Bjorn & John have been everywhere. While the Internet made Writer’s Block a hit long before it hit American shores, its eventual arrival in the United States meant even greater exposure and accolades for the Swedish trio. “Young Folks” became an alternative radio hit, to little surprise. The same appeal that led to its viral spread from blog to blog made it a prime candidate for the airwaves, and from there, the group’s songs landed on commercials, and sales of Writer’s Block even shot up to six digits. Not bad for three tuneful, unassuming gents.
All the attention hasn’t kept Peter, Bjorn and John, individually, from staying busy with other projects, however. Both John Eriksson and Bjorn Yttling contributed to Victoria Bergsman’s solo debut as Taken By Trees, while Yttling also produced records by The Shout Out Louds and Lykke Li. Peter Morén, however, took a solo detour, issuing the largely acoustic-flavored outing The Last Tycoon on Quarterstick Records.
In some ways, The Last Tycoon recalls Morén’s work with his two bandmates, only to a more laid-back degree. As mentioned earlier, this is a mostly acoustic album, and as such, the mood is breezy throughout, with some songs escalating to a more rousing pace, but all in all remaining subdued. In other words, it’s indie folk, though Morén touches his songs up with just the right amount of percussion, strings or external accompaniment to keep them from getting too sleepy.
In “Reel Too Real,” Morén begins with a rustic, fingerpicked sound, but ultimately lets additional instruments pile on, from handclaps to xylophone to clanging bells. In fact, it almost seems like a bit too much going on for such a seemingly delicate song, but Morén reins it in for a strong close. “Missing Link” follows a similar path, though opens a bit more awkwardly, ultimately finding its direction a minute in, with an upbeat pace, strings and theremin contributing to a much more interesting product. While starting off with a lo-fi beginning, “Old Love” transforms into a theatrical ballad, and “Le Petit Coeur” finds Morén singing the song’s chorus in French. The latter is a highlight on the album, as its melody is haunting and gorgeous, reminiscent of Tindersticks more than Badly Drawn Boy.
While Morén shines brightest in the context of a rock song, his folkier solo effort proves him versatile, if less than perfect. Songs don’t always take as seamless a shape as possible, and like the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel from which the album derives its name, sometimes don’t quite seem finished. Despite its flaws, The Last Tycoon does boast several gems, such as the outstanding “Tell Me In Time,” which is enough to make one believe that Morén just might knock one out of the park next time around.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.