Yours Truly, The Commuter
It was a strange task indeed to review the last Grandaddy album, Just Like The Fambly Cat, knowing that it was to be their last. It was virtually impossible, armed with this knowledge, not to read every word of the record as a suicide note. It's hard to review the album in its own right and not view it in the context in which it was being presented, the full stop to a wonderful decade of music. Since that time the music scene has suffered three years without its most unashamedly romantic and yet seemingly reluctant indie hero, until now that is. Here he returns to our ears with his debut solo record and the task of reviewing a piece of work that finds Lytle at the start of a new road rather than at the end of an old one is an infinitely more joyous undertaking, and made even easier by the quality of the music in question.
Lytle's work has always danced intriguingly around a series of opposites or contradictions. There's the obvious one like a big, bearded country dude singing in such a delicate tone which, in turn, leads on to yet more trickery. In these soft tones he sings of unbridled romanticism of warm summer days, hand in hand or childhood idealism and then trashes them with stories of drunk robots or sudden bursts of feral punk rock. Thematically these contrasts have prevailed and one senses a constant struggle in Lytle between everything from art and pop, town and country, loud and quiet or past and present.
In true form the title of his solo debut is a signing off - Yours Truly. And The Commuter explains this struggle hinting at a constant state of traveling between one place and another, be that physical or emotional or forward and back. Place is a dominant theme here with much talk of "going home." the line in the opening song "I may be limping, but I'm coming home," touches on both his past experiences and what promise the future holds for him now. Back in 1997 he gave us lines like "Here I sit and play guitar, count stars, out in the country, having narrowly escaped my trip into town," from Collective Dream Wish Of Upperclass Elegance. Little has changed as we find him in a similar dichotomy. Lytle is a dreamer and his music has always vividly represented the artistic conundrum between free expression and some sort of existence in society and the rest of the world. The concept of 'home' can obviously be taken at face value having recently relocated to Montana but it could also represent a kind of comfort that he's now finding between these two artistic opposites.
The core of the Grandaddy sound is firmly in place on Yours Truly with a slightly more low-key feel to proceedings. Lytle writes simple songs about simple themes and it's in this pursuit of simplicity that he manages to create some of the most perfect songs of his career. In the liner notes there's a picture of his note pad on which is written "No more weird arrangements...not on this album!!! Very simple. Very nice. rich, Big, but with enough little fucked things." That kind of does my job for me, I couldn't have put it better. It's a lonely record, but sun drenched as always. Themes of loss prevail but hope springs forth continuously. He creates a kind of euphoric melancholia, or melancholic euphoria, depending on your state of mind. Brand New Sun swells with an almost tear jerking sense of promise as two people run headlong into the unknown with the sole purpose of change, whatever pitfalls await them they'll face it together. Birds Encouraged Him sees a character on the verge of giving up on life only to be talked out of it by the birds, this childlike vision of salvation at the hands of nature being a familiar thread.
Lytles work is so packed full of a unique kind of idealism, both innocent and jaded, that one is almost seduced into reading too much into his words. The temptation to do that on the final Grandaddy album was all too great and I don't want to do it here. Whether he's lost or has found his way home is his privilege to know but what he's given us is a wonderfully simple and endlessly beautiful piece of work and a worthy first step on this much anticipated solo journey.
Check out Lytle's notes on the album here.
18th May 2009 - Tumblr4
Islington Academy, London
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