At 41, after six years and six records, Pete Yorn has gone back to his roots with his latest record, aptly named, Arranging Time. Reversing gears toward the guitar pop that originally kicked off his career, this record is late ’90s/early ’00s radio rock nostalgic and comforting. It feels good, but like most things, not as good as the first time.
In 2001, his breakout track, “Strange Condition” was featured on the Me, Myself & Irene soundtrack, putting him on the map for the first time. There’s a musical moment in film, especially in romantic comedies, that generally kicks in somewhere before or after the lead male has an epiphany and starts chasing after a cab or running through an airport to requite his love or apologize for breaking her heart; think Love, Actually or any Kate Hudson / Matthew McConaughey mashup. It’s hard to hear Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” without an immediate mental departure to Joey Potter and Dawson Leery crying it out at the creek, or any time Remy Zero’s “Fair” kicks in my mind’s eye is filled with images of Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in Garden State.
All of the above songs have a dramatic subtlety, with some post coitus strings. They’re catchy with enough universally relatable phrases they can fit into almost any montage. Some music is only enhanced by a cinematic backdrop, it’s movie music. Yorn makes movie music. The problem with artists who get their start within a soundtrack is that, in most cases, the rest of the record is a redundant blur. Yorn’s Musicforthemorningafter was the exception, it had a lot of great stand alone tracks. Arranging Time, however, does not.
While Yorn retreats back to the lo-fi, harmony and hook driven singer songwriter prose he’s good at, he often adds more when he does best with less. Yorn’s morning murmur vocals are his highlight, but tracks like “Summer Was a Day” and “I’m Not the One” are muddied with reverb and over production. The songs that work best are the ones that amble through with a decent narrative, circling in on his voice, like the lovelorn “This Fire” and “Roses”, or when he wakes up from his vocal slumber with brighter crooning on his Wilco-reminiscent piano ballad, “Walking Up”.
Not every artist needs to generate deeply cryptic lyrics or anthems for a generation, some just need to bring us dialogue that gets us through a breakup. Here, Yorn laments the passage of time, and the growing pains of melancholic suburbia. It’s a narrative many can relate to, and for most of the record the hooks are so smooth and easy to follow, the simplicity works.
Yorn and Scarlett Johansson already conquered the break up on their collaborative effort, in 2009, also appropriately named, Break Up . While the French really seemed to like the mash up, with wide acclaim in the riviera, it received mixed reviews on home soil. I really enjoyed that record for its lyrical and melodic sensibilities, and it was just another example of the brave sonic journey Yorn has taken over the course of his career.
Unfortunately, Arranging Time doesn’t have its “Strange Condition”, but maybe it just needs the right romcom to give it life.