Pete Yorn has created the beigest collection of music as wallpaper in recent memory.
Starbucks’ curated Spotify page is telling and terrifying. As their former billionaire owner mulls a vanity bid for President, Starbucks keeps up a façade of friendly corporatism by rolling out full albums’ worth of music to be ignored. The three separate playlists labeled “Coffeehouse,” “Folk” and “Acoustic” are the same in all but titles. These interchangeable tunes are never meant to be truly listened to, just there to create a chill vibe. This is background music sharpened by an algorithm to create the most unobtrusive playlists possible. It is the sonic equivalent of a Glade air freshener puffing in another room.
Starbucks can happily retire those playlists, as Pete Yorn has created the beigest collection of music as wallpaper in recent memory: Caretakers.
Yorn has spent the better part of two decades working off the good will fostered by his debut musicforthemorningafter. He was the teddy bear-soft version of Ryan Adams, a poppier counterpart to the alt-country scene bursting out of the early 2000s. His CV grew afterward; the multi-instrumentalist recorded most of his albums on his own, only inviting famous friends to cameo. Guided By Voices, Peter Buck and Scarlett Johansson have all starred in Yorn’s world. When Yorn sang with Guided in 2007, Robert Pollard jokingly said he hoped it “doesn’t ruin [Yorn’s] career.” But as the years have gone by, it seems like Pollard should be more worried about his connection with Yorn than the other way around.
When Yorn once yowled, he now coos. And he coos into the most lily-livered music of the decade. These are C-sides of a later day Crowded House album. Remember Lifehouse? They, at least, had some bangers. This is any one of the late-90s, early-00s pop-rock albums without a “Meant to Live,” “Hanging By a Moment” or “The Reason.” As obnoxious as those songs could be, at least they didn’t evaporate on contact with the ear.
The most difficult part of listening to Caretakers is trying to remember a single cogent moment of music. It is confoundingly generic, like Yorn himself had been conferring with the holy algorithm. It fades into an adult-contemporary mush. Muttered musings about failed romance with a total lack of details that could ground his tales. And that’s when he’s not passing clichés as grand ideals. “Do you wanna love again?/… If you get another chance/ Are you gonna nourish it?” are the type of profundities Yorn sprinkles throughout, sounding as though he’s scratching his chin and nodding at his own brilliance. Stooping as low as wincingly referring to it as “Pete Yawn,” would be a cheap shot if that pun didn’t equal the total emotional energy put into Caretakers. The only seconds that are memorable are the laughably terrible ones, like the cracked falsetto on “Opal” that contains an unfortunate amount of approximatura.
Starbucks would have to worry about customers passing out as this lazed across the shop. Caretakers is a weapons-grade sleep aid first and an album about 54th.