Sound Of The Suburbs

Bearded psych-poppers' premature midlife crisis

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Modesto is a town in Northern California where, Grandaddy would have us believe, very little happens. It is here that the five members of this exceptional band have lived all their lives, here that they party, fight, skate, and make records at the house of songwriter Jason Lytle. Like many small-town boys, they’re ambivalent about their home: bored and irritated by it, yet somehow unable to break free.

It’s a common enough story, rendered weird when one considers Grandaddy are an internationally acclaimed rock band, kindred spirits of The Flaming Lips, whose music respects and transcends American traditions. Most would assume their second album, 2000’s The Sophtware Slump?a marvellous concept project that used decaying technology as a metaphor for a ruined relationship?had provided the band with a means of escape.

Nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth. Much of Sumday presents Lytle as a man in stasis, the guy “who lost the go in the go-for-it”. “We’re all collapsed and futureless,”he sings in “El Caminos In The West”. “I’m On Standby”, he pithily names another song. A bit young for a mid-life crisis, but the band carry it well. Perversely, Sumday is compact where Sophtware Slump sprawled. No nine-minute epics?the 12 songs are compressed and insidious, often oddly reminiscent of Tom Petty or ELO had they grown up with a penchant for Giant Sand records and junkshop synths.

It’s a compelling psychological study set to lovely tunes, a document of a man torn between torpor and achievement. And a man whose paralysis and uncertainty can be traced back to that critical failed relationship, if the tremulous cosmic yawn of “Yeah Is What We Had” is anything to go by. Somewhere in the anonymous suburbs of Modesto, an uncommonly potent muse must be hiding out, waiting for the band’s inevitable return home.


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