Jason Lytle, ‘Dept. of Disappearance’ (Anti-)
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Grandaddy ended with a whimper in 2006, six years after hitting an artistic and commercial peak with The Sophtware Slump, an album that forward-thinking trucker-hat enthusiasts recognized as the sweet-hearted little stoner brother of OK Computer and Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. These were rural Northern California dudes who somehow evoked the sensation of moss growing on disused robots, all by delivering quiet, unassuming indie-rock epics littered with vintage synthesizers.
Naturally, they caught the reunion bug and convened this year for a handful of triumphant, belated-victory-lap shows, but “unassuming” remains the operative word in Grandaddy Land, and that shyness continues apace with the second solo album from frontman Jason Lytle. Considering how much Dept. of Disappearance sounds like his old band (which makes sense, considering he often recorded their records alone), it’s odd that he didn’t just release it under their considerably more famous name. Perhaps he’d consider that gauche?
But those who fell in love once with those layers of aged synths and the sweet timidity of Lytle’s voice — a crossbreed of Neil Young and Wayne Coyne, excising the more forceful moments of both — can wrap their weary hearts around much of this effort: The title track builds a gentle head of steam via fuzzy guitars and bleeps, while “Matterhorn” even references Sophtware’s closing track, with its hero aiming toward the sky once again.
But the passing years have also drawn out Lytle’s tendency toward sap. Whereas his abiding melancholy once dropped a dark curtain over songs that threatened to get too cheery, here he gives in to the bright side: “Get Up and Go” would work alarmingly well in an ad for anti-depressants, both musically and lyrically. (The lyrics, in their entirety: “Get up and go / You can do it / Everything’s gonna be alright.”) “Last Problem of the Alps” and “Somewhere There’s a Someone” aren’t quite as saccharine, but they’re almost irritatingly direct for a guy whose strength is in tiny little curves.
He provides those, too, thankfully: “Young Saints” kicks off with some digital interference and changes things up via odd backing vocals; it’s also the only point on Disappearance where Lytle raises his voice above his usual half-whisper. “Gimme Click Gimme Grid,” the eight-minute closer, gets sufficiently strange, too, though not as much as album highlight “Your Final Setting Sun,” which, I shit you not, owes a serious debt to Harold Faltermeyer’s theme from Fletch. (It might be an unintentional homage, but Chevy Chase fans will hear the similarity loud and clear.)
Lytle could use a few more of such moments, because without them — and even with them, really — he tends to tread water. It’s pleasant, soothingly warm water, sure, but you probably won’t want to soak for too long.