As I was leaving a friend's house last week, he handed me a CD he had gotten for free at work. I had never heard of Pete Yorn but apparently he was in town that night - I skipped the show, assuming I wouldn't like it. Too bad.
I've been listening to CBC for the past two months and have no cable, so I am completely out of touch with commercial alternative music land. I can't say if Yorn is popular, or has any singles, or is getting any air time at all. However, I can share my objective evaluation of his music.
I like it. I've been listening to the debut CD, musicforthemorningafter, for the past week. He's got a strong voice and the music has meat to it - something that I find lacking in most of the weak "alternative" tunes getting played on commercial radio. This also makes it stand out from other singer/songwriter creations that can at times be almost too laid-back. Luckily, he knows you can sing with strength and commitment without relying on intense volume or screaming.
Upon first hearing the album, I was convinced I had heard some of the songs before. Nicholas Taylor articulated the source of this better than I can. "...His sound is fresh and original. Original in the T.S. Eliot sense. He is well versed in the culture and tradition of rock that is reflected in his songs — they are wonderfully recognizable. The kind of songs you could swear you've heard before but in fact you haven't." That's an optimistic way of saying Yorn's music isn't exactly breaking down any musical walls.
The lyrics are interesting in terms of subject matter, with his inspirations ranging from the Beach Boys to Jack the Ripper. His influences include Morrissey, The Smiths, Iron Maiden, Joy Division and the Velvet Underground. His music has a good range - some quiet, more intimate melodies, some not so quiet. The drums were his first instrument, and he states that "A lot of the songs were written off the drums. I would kinda just get a natural rhythm going in my head…the way it should feel. Then I'd write around that."
The guy has had particularly good luck thus far. He managed to hook up the Me, Myself and Irene soundtrack and put songs into Dawson's Creek - all before he got a recording contract. His brother is Rick Yorn, partner of Michael Ovitz in AMG, a manager whose client list includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz - this has lead some musicians to grumble about family connections. Yorn insists his brother "only taught him to play the drums."
He has been signed with Columbia Records, and is currently (2001) on tour. All of the reviews of his shows I've read about have been great, and I've read about some pretty cool covers including the Smiths' Panic, Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark, and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. If he comes back to town and it's a small venue again, I'll be there.