There’s been a lot of hype around Pete Yorn. His songs have been on movie & TV soundtracks; he’s shown up on the late-night talk shows; he was even in one of those silly Rolling Stone fashion spreads. But that’s OK, because his debut album, musicforthemorningafter, is one crazy patchwork quilt of melody and mystery. In a pop world that was even remotely sensible, he really would be the next big thing. But of course, right now, the pop world isn’t remotely sensible, and because Yorn doesn’t fit any of the current predetermined niches for large-scale commercial success, it probably won’t happen. And because he’s on an evil major label, the knee-jerk anti-hype crowd will automatically dismiss him as well. Too bad for everybody, because I’ll swear right now on a stack of Elliot Smiths and Badly Drawn Boys that this is the most promising singer/songwriter debut since Liz Phair found herself exiled from Guyville.
Working with Liz’s producer, Brad Wood, and R. Walt Vincent, Yorn has taken a batch of what probably would have been ho-hum pretty songs and messed them all up by adding his big sloppy drums, layers of electric and acoustic guitars, synths, organs, percussion (handclaps!) and — just to make sure that people understand it’s a singer/songwriter album — even the occasional harmonica. Which is good: after all, we need to be reminded what kind of music this is supposed to be. What’s even better — and defines it as a post-millennial singer/songwriter album — is that the while the singer/songwriter is credited with about a dozen instruments on the album, harmonica isn’t one of them.
Still, for all of the stuff that’s going on in nearly every song, musicforthemorningafter never feels overproduced or overly polished. Instead, it feels like Yorn and his producers just stumbled across things like the stately piano hook in “June,” the “What’s Going On” drum loop that anchors “Sleep Better,” or the shiny guitar leads in “Sense,” and decided what the hell, the songs themselves are strong enough to support just about anything. As a matter of fact, the overall sound of musicforthemorningafter reminds me way more of indie “hey, that’s a cool part!” enthusiasm than major-label “heh, heh, those keyboards worked for Blink-182” calculation. It all adds up to an album that is full of — but never cluttered with — atmosphere, mood, and mystery. An album that rewards multiple listenings with multiple discoveries. Best of all, you can spend so much time enjoying the instruments and riffs that keep popping out of the mix that you won’t realize the choruses of the songs are lodging themselves so damn deep in your head that the words will show up on a PET scan.
And what about those words? After all, some people claim that the words actually matter or something, especially for singer/songwriters. Luckily, Beck (forget Dylan) made it safe for singer/songwriters to not write about anything specific, and word-wise, Yorn works more towards invoking imagery then telling stories. So, even if a song starts off “Oh Billie I want you so” it soon turns into “I’m walking around your closet, I want you to say my name again.” Meanwhile, he name checks Kiss, sends bottles of whiskey, and ruminates on the indestructibility of pots and pans. It all probably makes sense to him — and, to be fair, there are a couple of straightforward songs here — but it doesn’t to me, and I don’t even care, because I’m walking around my apartment singing “seeing is believing/ lord knows what he sees here every night” over and over and over.
At its best, on songs like “Closet,” “June,” “Murray” and the there’s-still-time-for-it-to-be-a-big-hit-single “Life on A Chain,” musicforthemorningafter makes me feel like one of those mornings where whatever I did the night before actually blasted all of the crappy feelings right out of my head, and I’ve awakened refreshed and ready to tackle whatever’s next. It’s one of my very favorite albums in a long long time — which, for this pop moment, is good enough for me.
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Published on Neumu August 22, 2001