Frank Black, formerly of The Pixies, produced Pete Yorn’s new album. That makes Pete Yorn a collaboration between two artists whose past work evokes polar opposite reactions. On one hand you have the Pixies, a seminal rock group of the late 1980s who deserve as much credit for the invention of indie and alternative rock as any other group. On the other hand, there’s Pete Yorn, a singer-songwriter from New Jersey whose five studio albbbbb—I’m sorry, I nodded off while I was typing that sentence.
Since his 2001 breakthrough album musicforthemorningafter, Yorn has veered from standard singer-songwriter fare toward rock with each consecutive album, with fairly bland results. This is definitely the culmination of that trend, his heaviest album yet. Black said of Yorn’s five day recording sesh: “I think he just wanted to rock out… I tried to get the session into a fearless and raw place.” Fortunately for listeners, it seems Black’s direction has steered Yorn’s music in a slightly more stimulating direction.
The opening licks of “Precious Stone,” the album’s leadoff track and lone single, betray Black’s influence with a slashing guitar hook and melodic backing vocals. He strips it down for the next track, “Rock Crowd,” a mostly-acoustic thank-you to his legions of adoring fans, which feels out of place in the album’s more electric first half. On “The Chase,” Yorn displays a newfound indie-rock sensibility, which balances superb vocals with freewheeling guitars in the album’s best composition. Although Yorn is a talented singer, his vocals sometimes lack the passion, and so he successfully uses frequent, up-tempo guitar riffs to compensate throughout the album, particularly with his nod to the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl” in “Sans Fear.” Yorn even makes a brief return to his folk roots, rounding out the 11-song CD with “Wheels,” a cover of an old country song by Gram Parsons.
Pete Yorn qualifies as a pleasant surprise. Yorn has always been a talented songwriter, but his brief collaboration with Black and jump across genres help him showcase his talent in a different, and far less snooze-worthy, way. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s certainly not a bore either, which for Pete Yorn means a step in the right direction.
-Jake Schindler, host, Steal this Radio Show, Saturdays 11-12