Release Date: Mar 3, 2017
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
If you were one of the masses trying to get a ticket for Grandaddy's tiny London show late last summer at Hackney Oslo, you'll probably be aware that their return is Quite A Big Deal. We have, of course, been here before; 2012 saw the band appear at a few European festivals, re-issue some vinyl, and play a triumphant, emotional show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. But that tour was more a trip down memory lane than a fresh start - there were no new songs, and while Jason Lytle did talk about the possibility of a new album, no-one was very sure Grandaddy would ever see the light of day again; the frenzy around their first appearances since 2006's Just Like The Fambly Cat seemed to weigh on Lytle, reminding him exactly why he disappeared into the mountains in the first place.
Much will be made of the fact that Last Place is the first record of new material from Modesto fuzz-poppers Grandaddy since 2006's Just Like the Fambly Cat, and for ostensibly good reasons. Everyone likes a reunion story, as least in the beginning. The most fans can hope for is a modicum of the magic through which the band drove its creative fancies.
In the ten years since Grandaddy last released an album, their guiding force, Jason Lytle, stayed busy with solo albums and other projects. When he stepped back into the cockpit to record Last Place, it was as if nothing had changed since 2006's Just Like the Fambly Cat. He was still the only member of the band writing songs and recording them. Only Aaron Burtch occasionally stopped by to add some drums.
It's been 11 years since Grandaddy released an album. They've come back just in time. Grandaddy's textured, robot-core sleeper rock makes a natural comeback, with fresh eyes. "Brush With the Wild" showers melodic glitches and "Evermore" blushes with Jason Lytle's vessely glaze, the capillaries of crunching synthesizers bursting slowly.
It may be over a decade since their last album, but when Last Place chugs into life with Why We Won't, it feels as if Grandaddy haven't aged a day. Theirs is still a pleasantly creaky sort of indie-rock - with squiffy synths, fuzzed-up guitar and mainman Jason Lytle's knack for bittersweet nostalgia present and correct. Still, that's no bad thing, the quality of Lytle's writing and the consistently good, inventive choices made in arranging the material means that Last Place doesn't ever come across as a band solely trading off past glories.
W ay We Won't, the opening track on Grandaddy's fifth album, has a chugging, Weezer-style fuzz guitar and faux-naive riff that recall their best-known song - AM 180, from their debut album Under the Western Freeway, now 20 years old. But Grandaddy have broadened their sonic palette. Last Place is more sophisticated and less self-consciously wacky than some of the Californians' previous releases, and better for it.
An established band's return after a long absence is usually done with rational cause. In the case of Grandaddy, the sudden return after a period of dormancy wasn't exactly either a desperate reappraisal or a forced necessity. It just felt right. No acrimonious breakups here. In fact, the actual ….
Jason Lytle dissolved Grandaddy shortly following the release of 2006's Just Like the Fambly Cat, and turned his artistic focus towards a pair of solo records, the tranquility of rural Montana living, record production, and random collaborations. But he revived his beloved indie group after more than a decade of dormancy, releasing the self-deprecatingly titled new LP, Last Place, a collection that isn't going to win over the world but might just help you make more sense out of it. The dissatisfaction and divisiveness permeating the United States and Europe is addressed in the simple but catchy retro gem, "I Don't Wanna Live Here Anymore.
I just moved here, and I don't wanna live here anymore. Hearing Jason Lytle's wonderfully distracted, broken voice is something of a nostalgia trip in itself. The most easily reached-for comparison is the technically awful but emotionally brilliant falsetto of Wayne Coyne; but these days Coyne dwells almost exclusively in nonsense or stoner bro "dude… what if"s. The resonance of Lytle's vocals skews closer to that of early Isaac Brock or even Doug Martsch: a human personification of the flat landscapes, disappointment and sheer existential boredom of the American lonesome crowded west.
Some Grandaddy songs are about technology. Nearly all of them are about junk: Alcoholic robots and broken household appliances outlive their usefulness and are left to rust. But the same basic fate awaits lost kittens, lonely spacemen, forlorn miners, and hollowed-out cities of rural California, eulogized by a band whose fuzz pedals, analog synths, and withered harmonies always sound like they're about to give out.
Jason Lytle's two solo records rarely strayed too far from the template he'd perfected as Grandaddy frontman -synth-infused symphonic indie shot through with a nagging sense of unease - so the band's first album in 11 years seems like a seamless continuation. Jed the 4th is a sequel to 2000's heartbreaking Jed the Humanoid, and familiar themes of loss and loneliness recur throughout, most notably on the bleakly beautiful This Is the Part and I Don't Wanna Live Here Anymore (the latter an autobiographical take on Lytle's relocation from Montana to Oregon). Ultimately, though, for all its emotional tug, Last Place is solid rather than spectacular, with nothing quite matching the peaks of their first two albums.
After years of struggling, working in sewage treatment plants and recording out of self-built studios; in 2006 - citing the financial difficulties of supporting a large band as well as internal squabbling and life on the road taking its toll - Grandaddy gave up the ghost. Now, over a decade later, frontman Jason Lytle has brought them back from the dead. After years spent moving all over America, writing alone and connecting with the 'real world', Jason found he'd accidentally begun writing songs that could only be for Grandaddy.
Much to the delight of sensitive slackers everywhere, synth-rockers Grandaddy are back from the dead with Last Place, their first record since 2006. Most of us just assumed that frontman Jason Lytle had shuffled off into the forest to live out his days amongst the broken household appliances he prophesied on the 2000 classic The Sophtware Slump, but 11 years later, Grandaddy show no signs of rust after the lengthy hiatus. In fact, Last Place is a solid record that maybe sounds a little too much like the old Grandaddy.
Last fall a decade long hibernation was woken with “The Way We Won’t” the first new song in over ten years from the indie pop legends Grandaddy. There have been a lot of band reunions. We are almost out of options. Most of them turn out somewhat like the Guns ‘n Roses reunion, playing classics to huge crowds of the same fans as when you last played.
Grandaddy have always felt like a band out of time, a group that's slipped backwards to those moments when rock music wasn't all bombast, auto-tune, and lo-fi "authenticity". Instead, the songs float amidst dense production and lyrical pathos in search of an intersection of melancholy and memorable, catchy hook. Continuing that hunt with Last Place, bandleader Jason Lytle, a decade after releasing Just Like the Fambly Cat, moved back to his native Northern California and reassembled the band for another outing.
When they first emerged in the late '90s, Jason Lytle and chums were occasionally seen by the press as poor cousins of the Flaming Lips. It was a lazy comparison. While Coyne and Co are a technicolour sci-fi party band, Grandaddy were more tattered and forlorn. Lyrically, Lytle's songs are obsessed with the intersection between mankind and technology, the impact we leave on the natural world and the derelict spaces that out-of-luck chauffeurs, wives of farmers and sad robots might someday colonise.