US - California - Full Moon 46 - 07/16/00
The Sophtware Slump
Year 2000 seems to have welcomed odd-ball, square-bearded Grandaddy to a bigger audience,
and some have compared the band to Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips, who dominated the music paper
end-of-year polls in 1998 (Rev) and 1999 (Lips). I don't fully agree on that (both MR and
FL have been through a rather dramatic transformation/face-lift through the last years), because
Grandaddy still relate more to the home-recording age of the 90s, even though they've smoothened
their sound a bit. But they've kept their oddity. I find them more like a straighter (more
"normal" ?) Neutral Milk Hotel. Now we're talking!
Starting as a 3-piece in 1992, head-man Jason Lytle on vox/guitars/keyboards, Kevin Garcia
on bass, and drummer Aaron Burtch, released a cassette album/EP called Complex Parties Come
Along Theories in 1994. Later the same year some of the tracks were brought along to an
EP/mini album entitled A Pretty Mess by This One Band. Grandaddy were lo-fi home-recorders,
not far away from Pavement, musically as well as geographically (Modesto in the San Joaquin Valley
of California). Guitarist Jim Fairchild and keyboard player Tim Dryden joined in the year after,
and their first proper album, Under the Western Freeway (including a couple of songs off
an unreleased album Don't Sock the Tryer), came out in 1997. With The Sophtware Slump
they've hit bulls eye.
Starting with the epic He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot (a tale of lost at sea,
a battle, war time, or what? ), they set the right mood, with their mostly low-toned (they can
also rock), but highly energetic music. Lytle's written all songs, and his lyrics are both hard
to get and simple to understand. His voice sounds sometimes like a young Neil Young (no rust).
Throughout the album there are lots of bubbling and tickling synths/keyboards (Lytle and
Grandaddy are fans of Talk Talk and ELO), making the all-over sound a bit...odd. Among my
favorite songs are the two about Jed (or Jeddy 3): Jed the Humanoid and Jed's Other
Poem (Beautiful Ground) - two fascinating pieces about a lost friend. I'm not sure if
"Jed"'s human, animal, or just a...thing. Or maybe pure robot/computer inventory fiction in Lytle's
mind. Touching and beautiful. And with the line: "I try
to sing it funny like Beck, but it's bringing me down", you can't go wrong, right? Their
"hit" single The Crystal Lake is one of (along with Chartsengrafs) the more up-
(or mid-)tempo songs on the album. Indeed catchy, being more of a conventional rock song, despite
the wild up-and-down-rolling bubble-synth. Love the guitar "solo"! The fragile piano-and-vocal
ballad Underneath the Weeping Willow is happy-sadness so good it almost hurts. Lovely.
The peculiar Broken Household Appliance National Forest - describing the "battle" between
man-built junk and nature's purity - is switching between themes, opening quiet, sounding like a
fuzzed Beach Boys in the chorus'. The slightly Eels-like Miner at the Dial-A-View is another
touching story of longing, wanting to return to someone and somewhere. Great! The final take off is
the closing track So You'll Aim Toward The Sky, being Grandaddy at the most ambitious and
big sounding, leaving us wondering: where did, and will, they go?
The Sophtware Slump need some time for growing on you (guess I must've played it over
20 times by now!). It will without doubt be one of the albums of the year. It's like a mild sea
breeze, and a real feel-good album. To quote from their lyrics: It's shining like a chandelier!
Copyright © 2000 Håvard Oppøyen