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May 2, 2003

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A little known fact about Pete Yorn is that he briefly considered signing with Sub Pop. Apparently, there was interest on the label's end, but Yorn opted to go with Columbia Records instead, partly because his hero, Bruce Springsteen, had called the label home for many years, but mainly because he wasn't interested in slogging it out on the indie circuit--playing in glorified bars for limited recognition. Fact is that Yorn always wanted a big audience, one that only a major label could and eventually did afford him.

He got his wish shortly after the release of the single "For Nancy (Cos' It Already Is)" from his debut album, Musicforthemorningafter. Following the incessant airplay and heavy rotation for the video on MTV2, Yorn's record went gold and he found himself headlining mid-sized venues across the country. While the album itself earned positive notes early on, the press quickly soured on Yorn as he played up his looks and all too willingly courted the Coldplay audience: screaming prepubescent girls and their sweater-clad boyfriends. This couldn't have been the Yorn that Sub Pop had imagined.

Day I Forgot finds Yorn at an interesting crossroads, as he tries to both reinterest the critics who originally championed him and satisfy the Coldplay contingency that buys the tickets and the records. It works occasionally, but more often the compromise forces him to lose both battles. Sometimes, such as on the first single, "Come Back Home," Yorn perfectly juxtaposes his sloppy, Pavement-esque hooks with a slick studio sheen, creating a song that at once sounds effortless yet still sophisticated enough to endure repeated listens. However, more often ambition and cogency collide with less than satisfactory results; so goes his attempt to drape a Cure-like, jangly guitar line over the standard pop-rock song "Long Way Down." Yorn still flaunts the Anglo influences like Joy Division and the Smiths on songs like "Pass Me By" and "Burrito," but unlike on Music, where they added a twist to a distinctly singer-songwriter affair, here they sound more like window dressing and are fundamentally at odds with the arrangements. Perhaps more to the point, the tension between his commercial desires and the artistic flair that once made him so compelling is beginning to sound like a burden. I can't help but wonder how different it might have been if the print on the CD spine said "Sub Pop" instead of "Columbia."

--Jon Garrett

Urbana, Illinois is the outermost circle of hell. I know this because I have spent several unpleasant afternoons there, mostly in trailers that double as fast-food joints. The mere thought of people living, let alone starting a rock band there, deeply depresses me, but, hey, Hum managed to do it without the place stifling their creativity. So maybe there's hope after all.

On my most recent daytrip to the sleepy college town, I discovered that there are a number of promising young bands vying for the meager local spotlight. Chief among them is Absinthe Blind, a band that Parasol Records (the reputable indie label which just happens to be based in Urbana) took a liking to and eventually signed. With the help of Parasol distribution, Absinthe Blind has begun to make a name for itself beyond the confines of the local scene, mounting regional and national jaunts. The band has even reportedly started to generate some major label interest.

Take a listen to the band's most recent CD, Rings, and it becomes immediately apparent what all the fuss is about, even if the band still has a long way to go before realizing their vision. Absinthe Blind relax the fractured dream-pop of local heroes Hum, imbuing their rock tendencies with a distinctly feminine touch. The shared boy-girl vocals underscore the kinder, gentler approach to the bursting textures of their forebears. The melodies might even be considered a bit too precious, vacillating between airy drones and soft beds of distortion. But when the formula works, Absinthe Blind delivers smashing results. The highlight is the sweeping ballad "Shields," which detonates a gigantic pop hook and proceeds to piece it back together again, never once sounding forced. None of the other songs announce themselves in quite so grand a fashion, but there's more than enough buried potential throughout to suggest that "Shields" was no accident. Let the bidding war commence.

--JG