Two-disc set commemorates Yorn's first studio album and shows what it plainly is: a collection of beautiful songs, nearly each one a small victory.
As far as movie soundtracks go, you could do worse than the one for the Farrelly brothers' Me, Myself, and Irene. Songs from late '90s staples of FM rock, from Third Eye Blind to the Offspring and Foo Fighters, make the collection a true alternative rock turn-of-the-century time capsule. But buried at the end, between tracks by the likes of Marvelous 3 and Billy Goodrum, was the soundtrack's best moment: "Strange Condition", the first ever recording from Pete Yorn. A year later, the song would be one of many standouts on Yorn's debut LP musicforthemorningafter. Showered with praise, the album would eventually reach Gold status and prove a modest success for Columbia Records.
Yorn's recordings over the rest of the decade never reached the standard set by his debut. But this double-disc 10th Anniversary treatment of musicforthemorningafter shows that Yorn had as much potential as any of the popular singer-songwriters to grace the airwaves in 2001. It's a reminder of what the original studio album plainly is: a collection of beautiful songs, nearly each one a small victory. With the help of some big-name producers, including Don Fleming (Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) and Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair), Yorn recorded 14 guitar-driven tunes that drew on alternative rock, roots rock, and Britpop while retaining the scraggy intimacy of a Springsteen album. (Yorn is also a New Jersey native.)
The first disc is the entire original studio album, newly remastered with one addition: the hidden track, "A Girl Like You", has been officially added as the last track. Most will remember musicforthemorningafter for its huge stock of melodies and incredible attention to detail. While the instrumentation varies nicely -- there's the propulsive drums and contrapuntal bass on opener "Life on a Chain", the syncopated guitar melody and Wurlitzer piano on "June", the crunchy guitars that buoy the refrain in "Sense" -- there's an undeniable coherence to the album, born mostly out of Yorn's vocals, which convey deep emotions at every turn.
The second disc begins with Yorn's entire live segment, on the morning the album was released in 2001, for Morning Becomes Eclectic, a radio show out of Santa Monica's KCRW 89.9 FM. The man was a good salesman, and his performances are mostly faithful interpretations of some of the album's best tracks. The stripped-down sound, though, gives Yorn more room to showcase his voice, which crackles with vulnerability on the coda to "Sense" and on the chorus to "On Your Side". Yorn sounds tired, but that fits the album's ethos. Music can sound this good when you're half-awake and haven't yet stepped out of your bedroom to begin your day.
On track six, his interview with Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt, Yorn comes across as funny and unassuming. He tells Harcourt that his older brothers helped to turn him into a "metalhead" when he was young (and points out the Monsters of Rock music festival t-shirt he's wearing), but that the Boss and Britpop influenced him the most. He jokingly calls himself "the Morrissey rip-off guy" before launching into a bluesy cover of the Smiths' "Panic". A few unreleased tracks (including "The Barber" and a remix of "Life on a Chain") are catchy, but don't add much to the bonus disc. B-side "Knew Enough to Know Nothing at All", meanwhile, has a strong hint of the melody on "Black", and wouldn't sound out of place on the original album.
In the "Show Outro", Yorn reminds listeners that he'll be playing "fully electric" that night at the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Boulevard. The store would close seven years later, a casualty of the stumbling economy and the massive popularity of MP3s and iTunes. So this live in-studo performance, in its own way, helped to forecast the demise of music store chains, and that the album dropped in 2001 at the peak of illegal file-sharing makes the irony all the more rich. Maybe some of you even first downloaded tracks from musicforthemorningafter on a certain peer-to-peer service.
But leaving aside the significance ten years ago of a radically changing landscape of music consumption, musicforthemorningafter stands on its own just fine, and still feels fresh and remarkable today. It turned out that this and Yorn’s next two LPs, Day I Forgot and Nightcrawler, comprised a kind of day-in-the-life trio of albums. But just waking up to musicforthemorningafter won’t do it justice. Instead, the songs on this astonishing album seem to matter most for what happens in the late night into early morning hours. They enrich the tiny moments that are just fragments in your head the next morning, but become vivid memories over time: sitting at a diner after a night out with friends; a lonely cab ride home at 2 a.m.; staring at someone you love in bed.