of his debut album, "Musicforthemorningafter" (Columbia), for the first time. "I'm sitting with [bassist and friend] Walt Vincent listening to all the tracks, and I was like, 'Dude, this record is all

Alt-rock newcomer Pete Yorn recalls being struck by a most unsettling thought while listening to the final mix of his debut album, "Musicforthemorningafter" (Columbia), for the first time.

"I'm sitting with [bassist and friend] Walt Vincent listening to all the tracks, and I was like, 'Dude, this record is all over the place. [The label's] gonna kill us.' " He explains, "We always hoped that people would get it, but we were also kinda like, 'Maybe we're the only people who like this kind of music.'"

That, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. Since its March 27 release, "Musicforthemorningafter" has become one of the most talked-about and acclaimed albums of the year. It is currently No. 161 in its 12th week on The Billboard 200.

Propelled by glowing reviews of Columbia's early advances and, more recently, by triple-A and modern rock programmers and MTV2's support of first single "Life on a Chain," the album has gone on to sell more than 133,000 copies thus far in the U.S., according to SoundScan. Its momentum seems to be building: VH1 recently added the "Life on a Chain" clip, and second single "For Nancy ('Cos It Already Is)" is nearing the top of the triple-A chart, and is getting a push from the label at the adult contemporary, adult alternative, and modern rock formats.

Yorn was certain that his debut -- a wonderful collection of midtempos and ballads boasting both an indie rock spirit and irresistible pop twists -- was accessible enough to charm a mainstream audience. But the 26-year-old singer -- the brother of artist manager Rick Yorn -- says he was also fully aware of the hurdles that the album and Columbia faced as the label launched his career.

"You never know if your record is going to be one of those great records that gets lost in the shuffle," Yorn says. 'There's so many things that go into getting a record out there. Even if it's great, sometimes it doesn't get the attention it deserves from the label. I knew if anyone could get it out there, Columbia could."

"And, ya know, I always believed in the record and imagined that [this level of success] would be possible," Yorn continues. "But I don't know if I had that kind of faith in people. I do right now."

Yorn's breakthrough was about five years in the making. After graduating from Syracuse University with a speech communications degree in the spring of 1996, he moved to Los Angeles with some friends/bandmates. They were certain it would only take a matter of a few gigs before the labels came a-knockin'. As those expectations went unmet, Yorn began to further hone his craft with steady gigs at L.A. singer/songwriter haven Largo, thanks to Adam Cohen -- son of singer Leonard Cohen and a college pal of Yorn's -- who passed some of his early demo tapes to the club's management.

At the urging of Rick Yorn, Columbia GM Will Botwin visited the singer a few years ago at his L.A. home. Yorn played him a few songs in his basement, and Botwin agreed to sign the Montville, N.J., native almost immediately after he finished.

"It was just a gut feeling," Botwin says. "The guy is just good. It's that simple. I had no idea about where the record was gonna go in terms of his potential commercially. But I knew right away [that I should sign him]. It was a matter of, 'We'll figure it out later. Let's just agree that we're going to do something now.' "

During the writing and recording of "Musicforthemorningafter," Yorn's songs continued to evolve, improving with each alteration, Botwin says. "[The album] continued to grow and grow and grow. We heard some demos that were good. We heard some rough tracks, and they were really good. He just kept upsizing our excitement. Every step of the way, he's exceeded our expectations. Our smiles just keep getting wider and wider."

The week after his album -- on which he plays guitars, drums, bass, and tambourine --debuted, Yorn joined Semisonic for a tour of the U.S. "At first, no one really knew who we were," he says. "There was, like, that one kid in the crowd, who's like, 'I love the record' and knows every song. But then it just started building." Yorn says that by the time the trek reached L.A., its final stop, the crowds were singing his lyrics back to him.

After another opening stint with Blues Traveler, Yorn headlined a recently wrapped, MTV2-sponsored jaunt with DreamWorks act Ours. He is scheduled to play "Late Night With David Letterman" Sept. 24. Botwin says the plan at the moment is to keep Yorn on the road and release a third and perhaps fourth single later this year.

Yorn says he's completed the writing stage of his next album and has already recorded about six songs for the set, which Botwin says probably won't see daylight for at least a year.