Pete Yorn, Back and Fourth
On Back and Fourth, soft-voiced singer/songwriter Pete Yorn comes off almost like a musical chameleon, to the point where I’m at first not entirely sure what to make of the guy. He starts off with gently determined, heavily folk-influenced country on “Don’t Wanna Cry,” which sounds like an Uncle Tupelo song as played by the Elephant 6 crew (complete with trombones), but immediately switches gear with “Paradise Cove,” diving headfirst into alluring, California-sounding pop that teeters on the precipice of Adult Alternative-ness. The former is mournful but defiant, the sound of a man on the verge of a breakdown who’s refusing to let his emotions get the better of him, while the latter is bitter and sexy at once, a tale of two lovers who can’t resist their urges, even though, as Yorn bluntly worries at the end, “that could be bad for us both.”
He rolls the dice a third time after that, following up with “Close,” the sweeping, pleading grandeur of which sounds either like Coldplay or the subtler moments of Coldplay forerunners U2, including an occasional odd accent and darned decent falsetto bit. Yorn neatly sidesteps pitfalls of overblown arena-rock, mind you, mostly by virtue of the track’s nicely samba-ish rhythm. And then, on to “Social Development Dance,” with its shimmering, chiming guitars and gorgeously low-key vocals; the track comes off like a less-high-pitched Sun Kil Moon outtake and makes some awkward lyrics, a remembrance of someone half-known but loved, somehow endearing in their strangeness: “I Googled you in quotes / got no results / I never learned how you had died / but I knew that you had lived.”
On it goes, after that, through the sweet, tick-tock guitars and plinky, toy-like keys of “Shotgun,” the jangly, appropriately sunny-sounding “Last Summer,” and the less-jaunty riff on “There Goes My Baby” in “Country,” all the way to piano-heavy closer “Long Time Nothing New,” which is a frustrated cry for change, for needing to escape from the always-been and over-familiar. That last track feels as honest as anything I’ve heard lately, Yorn emptying out his burdens onto tape for all to see and feel kinship with. And as Back and Fourth unreels, I find myself pulling closer and closer in, basking in the warm, nicely layered, Saddle Creek-esque glow (Mike Mogis produced the thing, so Yorn comes by the feel honestly) and wrapping my head around the quirkily heartfelt lyrics.
By the end, I don’t care much that Yorn doesn’t stick to a genre or formula, beyond the straightforward, boy-next-door voice that ties all of the songs together in a single package. As long as it all works on its own — and for the most part, it does — why fret about labels? While I’m not blown away just yet, I get the feeling I very well could be, with just a few more listens.