Review Summary: Excellent pop-rock from a criminally underrated songwriter.
The majority of singer-songwriter material is fairly accessible, not least because a large amount of the music's personality tends to be defined early on in the creative process, but the range of styles on display is curious. Strangely (or not, perhaps), the acts that gain exposure on the most mainstream levels also happen to be the least interesting, and the airwaves of late have been dominated by songwriters stretching from pleasant (Sara Bareilles) to borderline intolerable (James Blunt). Given how huge the genre is, this leaves an enormous number of artists below the radar, and Pete Yorn has somehow managed to remain there, despite almost 'arriving' several times.
Weirdly, calling him a singer-songwriter comes off as slightly forced. I mean, he is
; he pens all his own material, plays multiple instruments, is in creative control, and his trademark folksy drawl is Back And Fourth's centrepiece, although certainly not its only attraction. But on his fourth album, Yorn drafts in an impressive and varied set of musicians to accompany him, pushing the ten tracks on offer towards a group effort at certain points. What's more, Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Lightspeed Champion) produces, and his influence is prominent on tracks like Thinking Of You - where Yorn sounds scarily akin to Conor Oberst - and numerous other tracks with that recognisable folk/rock feel.
For all the smoke and mirrors, though, Yorn's personality is the reason Back And Fourth succeeds, and it's constantly evident that this man knows how to write music. Opener and lead single Don't Wanna Cry boasts a brilliant country-tinged hook, and the fragile precision in his vocals tips the balance in Yorn's favour from the very beginning. This is an album which flips between melancholy and upbeat pop songs, but achieves consistency by virtue of its honest production and Yorn's astutely realised lyrical nostalgia; he rarely sounds angry or bitter, just reflective and very human
. Such a sense is backed up by the record's largely acoustic nature. Rhythmic guitars, pianos and drums interweave to create attractive, mellow soundscapes.
From start to finish, Back And Fourth is as consistent a record as you're likely to hear this year; it fails to hit as many highs as Musicforthemorningafter
, but at the same time is a far more complete listen. It's a record that leaves you with a slightly hollow feeling when the last bars of Long Time Nothing New fade out, and you realise just how many of the chimes and jangly guitars you remember. Heartfelt, honest, straightforward and beautiful... those who haven't come across Yorn have long been missing out on some great pop-rock songs, and you can add another ten to that tally.