Grandaddy is an indie rock quintet from Modesto California and the brainchild of guitarist/singer/keyboardist Jason Lytle. They released four proper albums between 1997 and 2006. Their story is one out of a storybook. As a teenager, Lytle was a successful amateur skateboarder with aspirations to make a career of that. A blown ACL put an end to that, and he turned to music. Flash forward a few years. Grandaddy were busting their humps, but getting nowhere. One night, Lytle went to see Giant Sand play. After the show Lytle introduced himself to Giant Sand frontman Howe Gelb and handed him a demo tape. Gelb loved it, gave it to his label management, and soon enough Grandaddy had a deal in place for their first record. Under the Western Freeway (1997) was a success.
The Sophtware Slump is the band’s second album, but it was pretty much Jason Lytle flying solo. He went to a barn in the middle of nowhere and got it done, all by himself, hunched over the keyboards and mixing boards, sweating profusely and wearing nothing but boxer shorts. The title is both a reference to technology and to the concept of “sophomore slump”, that when a band has a well-received debut, their second record is a disappointment. Or a disappointing performance by an athlete in his second year. The entire album is about computers and androids. We all know that Radiohead’s OK Computer was a phenomenal success in 1997, and it was about computers and androids. Lytle took a chance with a similar concept, and it worked. The Sophomore Slump was also extremely well-received, and Lytle was sort of surprised that another record about computers and robots did so well. In some interviews, he says things like “that just shows you how messed up this industry is”, and in others he’ll say things like “it’s America’s OK Computer“.
Until about a year ago, I’d only “heard of” Grandaddy. I knew that The Sophtware Slump was an important album, and I knew that Grandaddy was sort of an important band, but I’d never listened to them. Last year, The Sophtware Slump was re-issued in deluxe format, and a Music Geek friend (viva la Geek!) insisted that I get it. I did, and I gave it a couple of quick listens without giving much thought to it. A couple of days ago, I decided to give it a real listen, and it’s pretty much all I can listen to now. It only took me twelve years, including one year with the album just sitting there in my collection. But I finally learned to love The Sophtware Slump.
Two songs on the album (and one of the non-album tracks) are about a robot named Jed who drank himself to death. Other songs focus on different aspects of technology and the relationship of technology with organic things. Tonight’s song is a grand example of technology mixing with nature in an unpleasant way.
“Broken Household Appliance National Forest” by Grandaddy
At some points, the way Lytle sings reminds me of the late Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse. Not very much on this song, but on those Jed songs the likeness is much more evident. This song is much more Sonic Youth and Pavement than anything else. Yes. This absolutely screams “late 1990s”. That bit between 0:59 and 1:16 is what you see in the dictionary when you look up “1990s guitar-based alternative rock”
While some think that this is a post-apocalyptic thing, I’m pretty sure that it’s not. It’s just about a place in the woods where people dump their broken kitchen stuff. We’ve all seen a broken washing machine in a creek bed or a broken teevee in the middle of the woods somewhere, but this is about a place where there’s a ton of them. So much that you’re not so sure anymore what’s nature and what’s not.
Broken household appliance national forest
Mud and metal mixing good
It’s kind of odd that the song breaks down just before the halfway point for a very brief intermission and there’s a second act almost exactly like the first.
The last minute or so of the song is a ridiculous Pavement-esque mix of guitar solos, and I mean that in the best of ways. It’s just this side of awesome, and perilously close to annoying. I love it.
You can get the deluxe version of The Sophtware Slump in the amazon store here.