Friday, June 19, 2009

vacillating - back & fourth


Got what I wanted and it's never enough, Got what I wanted when you showed up.... When you talk, it makes me cringe, You want so bad to have meaning, but you're empty and draining -- Paradise Cove, off of Pete Yorn's Back & Fourth

Let me just put it this way: personally, 2009 is pretty much decided in terms of what albums I'll listen to most after the year's done. I'm done. A lot of music critics tend to compare Pete Yorn to contemporaries like Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes, so in that light, I'm going to say that Back & Fourth is PY's answer to RA's Gold (or Heartbreaker if that's what you're into); an album that runs with themes of loss, regret, missed loves, but also an enduring sense of self-assurance; while the singer has his fair share of mistakes, he's also confident enough to sing about it and to hint at something (or someone) better around the corner. If there's anyone who still hasn't been convinced that Pete Yorn is one of the best singer/songwriter of the aughts, this album will make a convert out of them.

Back & Fourth marks the return of PY after the completion of his original "day" trilogy: musicforthemorningafter (2001), Day I Forgot (2003), and Nightcrawler (2006). While (deservedly) effusive praise was given to musicforthemorningafter, his subsequent releases haven't been particularly as well received by the critics. Which is a shame, because each album actually marked the progression of PY as a songwriter, both in terms of his treatment of the subject matter (mostly past loves/flings/personal observations) and his instrumentation and musical style. It became increasingly evident that while he shows considerable strength in belting out pop rock songs like Closet, Crystal Village, and For Us, it's the more acoustic, rustic sounds that really favored his lyrics the most. And that's the direction he took with the Westerns EP (2006? I think?), with more alt-country fare like The Man, and his beautiful, haunting cover of Never My Love. After hearing Westerns, my initial thought was, goddamn, this is exactly what his next album is going to emphasize.

For Back & Fourth, PY took a different direction in how he recorded; instead of opting to play all or most of the instruments himself, like he did for musicforthemorningafter, he brought in a host of session musicians and backing singers, sort of like a Bob Dylan & The Band style of live sessions. He also had production duties by the Bright Eyes producer, so there's a lot of that towards-the-end-of-the-song style of build-ups/crescendoes going on (but it's not overblown). If there's any real gripe I have with this album, it's that this album will invetiably draw more comparisons with Bright Eyes and any other convenient act laying around (maybe Wilco as well?). There's also the disappearance of a common theme within each of his previous LP's: strong rockers in the first third and parts of the second, and a final third that's more subdued as a closer. This time around, it's mostly a consistent affair, so some people might call this album "playing it safe." Boo! Bad reviewer! Shoo!

Anyway, I'm almost done with my second play-through of this album, and I'm pretty happy with what I'm hearing. Normally these days if I'm loving an album I'd write about it on Twitter, but I think this album deserves its own blog post. Following are some highlights off of Back & Fourth, and if you want a free listen, check out PY's MySpace page to stream the album. Buy this. And also his first three, along with Live in New Jersey and Westerns.

Shotgun (Live on Kimmel)


Close (Live on WXPN)


Last Summer


because I just love this song so much:

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