Ex-Grandaddy mastermind, Jason Lytle, relies on beautifully textured symphonic moods and swooning sad-voiced ethereality to reach nirvana. Taking a surrealistic pilgrimage beyond the Flaming Lips astral weeps, Grandaddy’s subtle orchestral provocations attached Lytle’s diligently detailed compositional mastery and gorgeously sequenced keyboard regalia to main comrade Jim Fairchild’s interlaced fuzzy guitar gauze, helping define the minimalist computer-generated rock landscape of the late-‘90s.
Now a venturing soloist after an uneasy break-up with his fellow Californian pals, ex-skateboard pro Lytle still manages to dazzle auricular senses with majestically grandiose wanderlust. A consistently transcendent mysticism sweeps over his wondrous solo debut, Yours Truly, The Commuter. Though he’d rather admit allegiance to ‘70s classical pop icons Electric Light Orchestra, or ‘90s complaint rock lampooners Pavement, Lytle’s lathering oeuvre continues to radiate with the same crestfallen melancholia Radiohead and their contemporary British ilk (Coldplay/Travis) judiciously spume.
Originating from the once-agricultural blue-collar metropolis of Modesto, Grandaddy’s refreshingly coherent and surprisingly mature ’97 debut, Under The Western Freeway, brought a Luna-related lysergic intimacy to static-y reflective lullaby’s and lushly ornate epiphanies, giving Lytle’s resolute combo instant indie-rock club cred.
Three years forward, wryly titled sequel, The Sophtware Slump, an interestingly intricate technology-bent suite, was even better, conveying utmost tranquility, especially when sweeping ELO-styled strings adorn lustrous tone-dialed euphony “The Crystal Lake.” Invigorating guitar-driven standout, “Broken Household Appliance National Forest,” is a gloriously discombobulated obfuscation that’d serve as a high water mark.
More endearingly heartfelt and nearly as challenging, ‘03’s Sumday retained Grandaddy’s spellbinding warmth. “El Caminos In The West” should’ve been the great mainstream radio crossover but had to settle for being one of the catchiest tunes ever about traveling far away from home. Another contagious electro-rock dreamscape, “Stray Dog And The Chocolate Shake,” maintained an infectious uplifting glimmer. Lytle’s introspective misanthropic sensitivity reaches a zenith on resoundingly eloquent “The Group Who Couldn’t Say.”
For ‘05’s home recorded eight-track 30-minute EP, Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla (influenced by a lazy-ass cheese-ball hillbilly and a Tahoe-bound Monster truck), Lytle’s troupe kicked serious ass on clangorous emotional hardcore wrangler, “Florida,” and frazzled Cheap Trick-informed hard-candied bombast, “Pull The Curtains.”
But uncertainties surrounding Grandaddy’s reflective final album, Just Like The Fambly Cat, led Lytle, a self-described “diehard realist,” to wonder if his best ideas were running out. Contemplating whether or not he was in a holding pattern, Lytle moved to expansive Northwest hideout, Montana, and struck out on his own with ’09’s restorative Yours Truly, The Commuter.
The one constant amongst Lytle’s solo and band endeavors is the way his soothingly caressing falsetto butters interstellar lyrical alienation atop soft-focus arrangements resplendently utilizing Casio, analog synth, and vintage keyboard gear to create picturesque pirouettes. Title track, “Yours Truly, The Commuter,” merges liquid-y Ventures guitar reverb with oscillating Joe Meeks-inspired synthesizer and a distant audio transmission for a cool pre-British Invasion flashback. The pristine acoustic constancy of “Brand New Sun” gets inundated by sympathetic Impressionist notions and drifting piano dirge, “Forget It,” unwittingly heists Eden Ahbez’s cosmic cocktail lounging. He also celebrates the weekend with a raucous turnabout before finally crawling back into Montana’s blithe seclusion by album’s end.
I spoke to Lytle over the phone, June ’09.
Does the solo album feel like a reprisal following the demise of Grandaddy?
Grandaddy had a good thing going—label money to spend. We had good ideas but the label essentially ran out of money and eventually we ran out of steam on a number of levels. There were no reserves and I felt it was time to pack it in and start a new chapter. I had my first ultra-bout of exhaustion with ‘02’s Concrete Dunes. We had a run-in with a smaller label and that got released without our consent. For every record sold, he got money. Once we got on tour and made Sumday, I was worn down. Just enough time went by for him to put that out with no approval. I never saw artwork or small minutiae. People liked it even though it was a bummer I had no extra input.