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Pete Yorn – Pete Yorn

on October 05, 2010, 8:00am
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Frank Black is a lot of things: musician, producer, legend, opera enthusiast. One of the caps we thought we’d never see him don, though, was that of a psychotherapist. But here he is, doing just that. Don’t believe us? Listen to Pete Yorn’s new self-titled album. The first since his messy, sort of cutesy Break Up with Scarlett Johansson, Yorn’s new disc finds Black (as producer) ripping away the layers of Yorn’s musical talents, revealing a vulnerable, confused young man and an album of sheer simplicity and utter rock goodness.

Like a truly great, tear-inducing onion, the album has varying layers of emotion and punch. At its most simplistic, the effort is a sweet, nostalgic trip to the days of old, like in “Velcro Shoes”, with that snazzy footwear standing in for all the ease and bliss the days of old offered. Deeper in, the listener can detect a hint of self-deprecation in tracks like “Badman” and “The Chase”, where Yorn channels Tom Petty or John Mellencamp for a straightforward rock ditty about the ways he can hurt a woman, all because he’s damaged goods. There’s plenty more sunshine in this album, but its been pulled back by Black. Despite the burning alternative spite in “Always”, it’s a love song recognizing life’s meaningless obstacles and the importance of a simple bond. “Stronger Than” is a chameleon, dressed in the garb of a pathetic cry for help to the tune of an acoustic guitar. However, it’s also the deepest and most personally insightful, with Yorn recognizing he’s “gotta love himself before he loves another.” It’s together that these tracks paint the picture of a complicated man.

In terms of songs that work the hardest to tell the most, “Rock Crowd” and “Wheels” are absolute must-listens. The latter is a critique about the world we live in, but less pretentious than that sounds, as its lyrical focus is on one man’s desire to escape the world, and his own self, in order to reach something richer. It’s the most low-key of the tracks, with a slight edge to the soft strum and an almost spiritual undertone. The former is arguably the crowning jewel of the album, Yorn’s voice at its most ruined and forlorn. He sounds as if he’s 100 years old, dying from cancer and loneliness. It’s gorgeous as an ode to fans, the only people capable of bringing him to life. It also follows a similar musical path, with the chorus exploding outward thanks to a lively onslaught of cheery voices. In terms of the layers of this album, these two arguably make up the core: songs of sheer emotional desolation with a thick coat of realistic optimism. They are the very definition of basic, yet emerge as the songs with the most impact.

A great producer can’t do anything if there’s nothing there to start with (this being only true if I actively ignore a lot of the mainstream top 40 music). This partnership between Black and Yorn highlights the important points in the producer-musician dynamic: It’s got to still feel real to the artist, and yet they have to suffer and be tortured by their producer to pull out their worst pain and make it worthy of listening to. Now that actually seems something Black is known for.

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