Release Date: Oct 16, 2012
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The American state of Montana: a.k.a. Big Sky Country, a.k.a. The Treasure State, a.k.a. The Last Best Place, bearing the state motto of “Oro y Plata” (Gold and Silver). The state of juxtapositions: open, small-town, welcoming attitudes and active cultural xenophobia, a Democratic governor and ….
Like a child lining up his green plastic toys for war, Jason Lytle crafts the most innocent tragedies you'll ever hear between a record's two sides. Mournful, shivery and almost imperceptibly self-amused, the newest output from the California songwriter sends him soaring along the trajectory he first launched with Grandaddy, propelled by the knack for rendering big sadness in miniature. Although Dept.
Jason Lytle's second solo record, Dept. of Disappearance, isn’t a great departure from his first solo effort. Like that record, this has the feel of a guy (an extremely talented one) sitting in front of his computer late at night, surrounded by musical gear and in a reflective mood as he calmly lets the music tumble out of him. It’s also not too far from the sound of the last couple Grandaddy records -- combining the pastoral with the nocturnal, acoustic guitars with synth squiggles, slow-motion ballads and lightly bubbling pop tunes, with Lytle’s unaffected vocals and slightly off-kilter ruminations on life running through it like a steadily flowing stream.
Since dissolving Grandaddy in 2006, Jason Lytle has been living in the mountains of Montana "recording nerd-style, geeked out in the house with the headphones on". His music has always been a strange combination of grandeur and humility, its slow, majestic chord sequences and long fade-outs brought down to earth by his baby voice and toy computer samples; as with Wilco, you get the sense of a complicated man, dressed like a lumberjack, given to bouts of gloom but essentially hopeful – there's even a song here called Somewhere There's a Someone ("who's wondering where I am"). It's melodically sweeter, and warmer, than his acclaimed Yours Truly, the Commuter – Last Problem of the Alps builds like Cohen's Hallelujah, while the gorgeous, eight-minute Gimme Click Gimme Grid talks loftily of "honesty between the beating wings", but is set to what sounds like the demo mode from your first Yamaha synth.
Separating Jason Lytle’s latest from his canon—because just as everything he’s ever touched is worth hearing, everything he’s ever touched bears the ever-present tactility of hirsute guitars and analog synths—is the strange, beaming acceptance at its heart. Where Lytle once infused his dustbowl surf-pop with an undercurrent of millennial dread, today he embraces finality: bureaucratically (title track), softly (“Somewhere There’s a Someone”), warmly (“Your Final Setting Sun”). This is probably as healthy as he’ll ever sound.
For some singers, performing within a certain vocal range can be a case of exploring strengths within their limitations. In Jason Lytle's case, his breathy, careful delivery is his strength; while occasionally swinging upward to touch a few high notes like taking his hat from a rack, he generally maintains a strangely soothing vocal demeanor. The effect is relaxing and calming; after a few songs, without realizing it, you've handed over the wheel to Lytle, who's been waiting patiently and never doubted you for a moment.
There was a TV show I used to love as a kid – which a lot of Facebooking has reminded me was called Potsworth & Co. – in which the central premise was that four children and their dog would go to sleep at night they turn up in the Dream Zone. There, as the Midnight Patrol, they were appointed by the pyjama-clad genteel king The Grand Dozer to undertake missions given to them by the Snooze Patrol (so hard not to make a ‘Chasing Cars’ joke here).
Jason Lytle’s signature abundance of sounds and textures, computerized blips and buzzes crowded together with layered guitars and synth hums, are on full display on Dept. of Disappearance. This could become an entirely dehumanized and paranoiac set of effects, but fans of Lytle’s previous work, both as the main songwriter for millennial indie prog-rockers Grandaddy and as a solo artist, know that in his hands, and with his soft singing voice, scattering of oceanic whooshing sounds, and variety of string instruments, even the dystopic can reveal a measure of gentility.
Jason Lytle's second solo album begins much like his first solo album, with a veiled statement about the state of his career. On the title track of 2009's Yours Truly, the Commuter, he claims he was left for dead: "I could give two shits about what they said/ I may be limping, but I'm coming home." At the time it sounded like he was still bristling over the breakup of Grandaddy, the Modesto-based band that soundtracked Lytle's weird tales of space miners and lovelorn robots. The lines were vague enough, however, that you could appreciate the renewed sense of mission without getting caught up in any potential intraband politics.
Let’s face it, Jason Lytle is Grandaddy. Even when he dropped the Grandaddy name and went solo, there was virtually no telling where one ended and the other began. Call it what you want; the songwriter draws from the same musical grab bag of tricks. And in the end, that’s the best thing that can be said about Dept.
Let’s get this straight from the outset: once you have written and released an album like ‘The Sophtware Slump’, you should be set up for life, surrounded by snivelling flunkies who bring you all the drugs and hookers your heart desires, and fawn over your every fart as though Beethoven himself had orchestrated it. Any follow up or solo records should take years to arrive, and have a clear ‘material excess damaging musical genius’ theme. How that one record hasn’t given Jason Lytle a licence to print money is, frankly, one of the main reasons that we know that the music industry has gone to hell.
Grandaddy frontman’s second solo LP is a set of impressive depth and scale. Chris Roberts 2012 The Grandaddy reunion shows of 2012 may have appeased those who felt the hirsute Californian cultsters never maximised their potential in harnessing Americana alt-country to neo-prog. Yet their frontman Jason Lytle is venturing ever forward and further out.