Pete Yorn: Pete Yorn

RIYL: Son Volt, Sugar, Ryan Adams

I imagine the conversation went something like this.

Pete: (drumming his fingers on the stained bar top) So… Frank… or is it Francis? Black? Anyway… what do you think about producing my next album?

BF: (shakes his head and signals the bartender) I dunno.

Pete: (looks wistfully at his empty glass) Oh, come on. I’m the king of collaboration and we both have indie cred to burn. Why not?

BF: (sets his beer down without drinking, thinks for a second) Okay… but one thing first. (bends over to the battered case lying at his feet, unfastens the lid and lifts out a well loved Strat) First… show me you still know what to do with this.

Pete: (frowning) That’s cold, man. I was emoting.

BF: Yeah… well get over it.

So that is more than a little bit facetious, as this latest Yorn album was supposedly recorded before 2009’s Back & Fourth. And to be fair, Pete Yorn’s affair with adult contemporary/personal catharsis wasn’t a total disappointment (and in concert he and his band totally rocked), but as a studio album, it was a less than exciting departure from a signature sound he’d developed over his amazing original trilogy. Teaming up with ex-Pixie Frank Black, Yorn takes his sound in yet another new direction on his fifth, eponymously-titled album.

Not the most coherent record, Pete Yorn borrows from a variety of stripped down guitar sounds, some roots rock, some alt rock and even some ’90s post-grunge. One listen and you’ll swear that Black’s contemporary, Bob Mould, had a hand in the guitar line for “Velcro Shoes,” and Frank’s current work shapes “Badman” heavily. “The Chase” sounds like a cover of a lost track from Social Distortions 1990 self-titled classic.

Lyrically, Yorn goes with his eclectic, left-field tendencies that made his original music so intriguing. It happens that his version of “Paradise Cove” – clearly the original, prior to what appeared on Back & Fourth – is much more Yorn-like and interesting in this rougher, lo-fi take. Still, it is also clear that releasing this collection of songs (and it really is more a collection of songs than an album) was something of an afterthought, and while engaging, it is not to be understood as a definitive new direction for Yorn. He created an inescapable, unique sound in his original three albums. Perhaps this, along with Back & Fourth and the brilliant duets album Break Up with Scarlett Johansson, will be looked at as a second trilogy in Yorn’s career; a trio of personal experiments that showcases a prolific talent trying to find his next level. Enjoy Pete Yorn for what it is, but after this, let’s see where he’s really going. (Vagrant 2010)

Pete Yorn MySpace page


Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson: Break Up

RIYL: Aimee Mann, Mark Geary, Nicole Atlkins

When most people wake up from a deep sleep with a sudden strange and creative urge, little ever comes of it. Then again, Pete Yorn isn’t most people. As he tells it, Yorn awoke just needing to make a duets album, and lucky guy that he is, he’s a personal friend of the beautiful Scarlett Johansson, who proves to be a true chanteuse. Together they recorded a nine-song set of ingenious lo-fi pop, simple in their beauty and deeply resonant on the personal side, and Break Up was born…in 2006. Why this sat for three years gathering dust is beyond us. Yorn described the process of this album as one of the most intimate and controlled on his part, so it took the urging of friends to get him to revisit and release it. We should all send those friends a note of thanks, because this album is like nothing else out there.

Opening with the single “Relator,” you immediately hear the uncharacteristic synth line that bee-bops along until Johansson’s smoky, almost husky vocals hit the ear like a fine shot of bourbon hits the throat. It sounds like some kind of effect was used, but Yorn insists that it is Scarlett au natural. She blends perfectly with Yorn’s classically pained and scratchy growl, and the chemistry between them is obvious. It infects every song with an emotional immediacy. “I Don’t Know What to Do” takes a slight, very slight, country tinge where Johansson is unfortunately relegated to back up, because when she sings, the whole song lights up.

It really is Scarlett’s addition that pushes this album from good to great. “Blackie’s Dead” starts out like something right off of The Day I Forgot until the harmonies of Johansson transform it into something ethereal, carried along by an a haunting steel guitar riff. This kind of song redeems Adult Contemporary because it is grown up, without being safe or boring. A perfect example is “Clean,” which features a more R&B sound, just enough to make Johansson simply ooze through the headphones with a subtly hollow sadness brought forth with the echoing production. This is mature songwriting that loses none of the passionate impact of Yorn’s earlier work.

As the second release of 2009 for Pete, he has completely redeemed any missteps he may have taken with the earlier solo album, Back & Fourth. Both that and Break Up are his self-proclaimed attempts to be more personal and direct with his music, but the latter succeeds far beyond the more prosaic Back & Fourth. Working with Johansson, Yorn has created a a gorgeous album, far beyond anything one would normally expect from a hazy, sleep inspired creative whim. This is art. (Rhino 2009)

Pete Yorn MySpace page


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