Last fall a decade long hibernation was woken with “The Way We Won’t” the first new song in over ten years from the indie pop legends Grandaddy. There have been a lot of band reunions. We are almost out of options. Most of them turn out somewhat like the Guns ‘n Roses reunion, playing classics to huge crowds of the same fans as when you last played. Fewer turn out like Blur, new fans and new music based on the music aging well and collective achievements in between. Even fewer turn our like Dinosaur Jr. where some critics, myself included, actually prefer their post-hiatus work to their “classic” work and their reunion lasts years longer than a record or a tour, they are truly reborn.
I don’t know which Grandaddy will turn into, I do know that their new record The Last Place reignites so many of the classic Jason Lytle feels that if he said he wrote and recorded this record ten years ago, I would believe him, in the best way possible. The band has lost nothing in songs, melodies, guitars, humor. It’s all here. It may not be The Sophtware Slump volume 2, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s a solid entry on par with the rest of their celebrated catalog and every fan from a decade ago will hope this reunion is far from over.
It begins with the aforementioned single “The Way We Won’t” which sounds like a 20 bpm slowed down Blue Album track that hits all the right notes. Jason stretches his vocals on the last chorus refrain, hitting that slacker vibe Beck perfected. The piano hook after the chorus hook sounds right out of a Matt Sharp song, until it erupts into a delayed guitar solo. The following song “Brush With the Wild” is an exploratory pop track, expressing Jason’s lifelong obsession with hiking and the outdoors. But under the surface, it’s a tale of love encountered on a journey sometime past, revisited with a text, immediately followed with regret. Ultimately he chooses to call her, but we are left to wonder what happened.
That’s the thing about Jason Lytle pop songs, they work on several levels. On first glance, the record is about the typical Grandaddy fare — beauty in nature, distrust in technology, simple comments made into workable and catchy melodies. But under the surface, a narrative begins to emerge. “The Way We Won’t” is a sarcastic end to something beautiful. “Brush with the Wild” is a delicate hope it could return. “Evermore” is the heartbreak. And the rest of the record follows a move away, a self loathing blame game, the return of an old friend, and the acceptance that perhaps, like Beck sang — you are a lost cause.
Whether that narrative exists or not, though, doesn’t matter. The songs rock and are well written and that’s enough. “I Don’t Want to Live Here Anymore” is so strong and poppy that its an alternate world alternative hit. “This is the Part” follows in the classic Grandaddy tradition of dejected trajectories like “The Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World”. If you are a fan, I’m sure the melody for that Sumday track immediately echoes in your brain.
Just take the first few tracks off of Sumday. “Now it’s On”, “I’m On Standby”, “The Go In The Go For It”; each song feels like the melody is organically in those words. The Last Place is not a disappointment in this regard, as “A Brush With the Wild” and “Lost Machine” and many others feel similarly injected with melody. Speaking of “Lost Machine”, it took a few listens, but it feels like a classic Grandaddy tale. Its as big as a canyon and as small as a video tape. I don’t exactly know what its point is yet, but maybe it's not more than we all end up as pictures in someone else’s hands, memories in someone else’s head. Its fatalistic, but that doesn’t mean its not gorgeous.
The last track on The Last Place echoes many of its themes in a beautiful acoustic song reminiscent of The Shins. Its refrain repeats “message better left unsaid” perhaps remembering the story in “Brush With the Wild” but we still don't get to find out, because he decided the message was better in his mind than in the air. Or perhaps raising the question of communication in general. How many things do we say that we wish we hadn’t? A lot more than we did when we didn’t have phones. Jason’s love of nature and distrust of technology strikes again. B PLUS