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Grandaddy

+ {Jason Lytle} + {Admiral Radley}

The brainchild of former amateur skateboarder Jason Lytle, GRANDADDY went from noisy lo-fi indie attraction in the 90s, to post-millennium purveyors of neo-psych, alt-country and prog. One could certainly draw a wonky line between NEIL YOUNG, PAVEMENT, MERCURY REV and SPARKLEHORSE. In essence, Lytle and Co achieved relatively frugal sales on home soil US terrain, though a plethora of plaudits and big bucks awaited them in Britain, where albums `The Sophtware Slump’ and `Sumday’ cracked the Top 40.
Formed 1992, in the city of Modesto, north California, the aforesaid singer/guitarist/keyboardist Lytle (born March 26, 1969), 16-year-old bassist Kevin Garcia, and drummer Aaron Burtch gave up the ghost of emulating hardcore acts BAD BRAINS, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES and the like, after completing d.i.y. cassette EPs: `Prepare To Bawl’, `Recorded Live Amongst Friends And Fidget’ and `Complex Party Come Along Theories’.
Several tracks found their way on to GRANDADDY’s mini-set of spring ’96: A PRETTY MESS BY THIS ONE BAND {*5}; the first of two discs on Seattle’s “Will” label. By this time, guitarist Mike Hart (who’d featured on 7-inch singles, `Could This Be Love’ and `Taster’), had moved aside for Jim Fairchild and keyboard player Tim Dryden; though too late to save a further cassette, `Don’t Sock The Tryer’, from being canned.
Gleaning help from GIANT SAND’s HOWE GELB, the promising quintet found a sympathetic ear at Big Cat Records (an offshoot of Richard Branson’s V2), although bona fide debut set UNDER THE WESTERN FREEWAY {*8}, took six months from its original Stateside dispatch in October ’97 to finally emerge in Britain. The ambitious album coincided with a number of exclusive UK-only singles and EPs: `Machines Are Not She’, `Everything Beautiful Is Far Away’, `Laughing Stock’ and the BRIAN WILSON-meets-WEEZER-esque `Summer Here Kids’ (an NME Single Of The Week) and `A.M. 180’; the latter not in reference to throwing a maximum at darts in one’s sleep. Jesting aside, the rustic record was another based on classic West Coast Americana, and one that earmarked GRANDADDY out as the Sunday drivers of the alt/indie brigade.
Jason and his band of beardy brothers returned a year down the line with the EU-only “The Broken Down Comforter Collection”; basically a round-up of “A Pretty Mess By This One Band” and “Machines Are Not She”. It was followed by a fresh US-only EP, `Signal To Snow Ratio’.
With perhaps the best indie/lo-fi album of the year, THE SOPHTWARE SLUMP (2000) {*9}, the spaced-out GRANDADDY cosmonauts were now competing with The FLAMING LIPS’ “The Soft Bulletin” and MERCURY REV’s “Deserter’s Songs” for some indie real estate. And as progressive and as psychedelic as one could achieve in this glowing era of cracking alt-rock acts, the album began with what could only be described as a Stateside lo-fi equivalent of RADIOHEAD’s “Paranoid Android”, entitled `He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot’; the man-against-machine manifesto wholly adhered to throughout.
Backed by Fairchild’s psychedelic, effect-laden guitar and Dryden’s electric piano that doubled up as a space-age synth, Lytle wandered like a lost child in a daunting sci-fi mountain landscape, singing eleven sad-core songs about drunken robots, smashed up computers, lost love and, ultimately, hope, and all in his uneasy Mark Linkous-meets-DANIEL JOHNSTON croon. Attendant minor UK hit singles, `The Crystal Lake’ (released twice!) and `Hewlett’s Daughter’, ranked as two of the best psych pop songs ever written, whereas on `Chartsengrafs’ the band cranked up the amps to 11 for what sounded like prog-grunge. By and large, a humble band that was thought to only make sad, sun-blasted lo-fi, had created one of the strongest semi-concept albums since “Ok Computer”.
Back in 1999 when executives anticipated the final mixes of “Sophtware” landing in the post, in popped the prank set that was `The Ham And Its Lily’; the lads sent over the real thing soon afterwards when V2 finally got the joke. Full of faux tracks that were intentionally recorded to sound goddamnawful, Arm Of Roger (i.e. GRANDADDY) sold the album at an interim gig in early 2003. As it turned out, the LP wasn’t far from something The RESIDENTS could achieve and worth the admission price alone for highlight, `I Like Lo-Fi Recordings’.
After the dust settled, and settled again, GRANDADDY delivered, by comparison, the somewhat disappointing third set proper, SUMDAY (2003) {*7}. Not that the album was at all bad, it was just that many fans had expected something a bit more extravagant, or even adventurous. What they got instead seemed like a watered-down version of their previous sets, with Lytle’s production values moving towards a more polished, mainstream direction. UK Top 30 single, `Now It’s On’, was far too basic for a band that had given us the mind-bending prog of `He’s Dumb…’. GRANDADDY’s slamming synth sounds, fuzzy guitars and looped beats were becoming a tad tiresome, but that’s not to say there was no “merit” in their madness a la `El Caminos In The West’ (another minor UK hit), `The Warming Sun’ and the heartfelt `Saddest Vacant Lot In All The World’ – festival favourites headed for Glastonbury and beyond.
2005’s across the board 7-track mini-set, EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF TODD ZILLA {*6}, preceded what was scheduled to be esoteric Lytle and Burtch’s last musical will and testament: the underrated and oddly-titled JUST LIKE THE FAMBLY CAT (2006) {*7}. One assumed Lytle had had a bad dose of the flu when naming the set, a set that warranted no room for Fairchild and Dryden, only a guest spot for Garcia. Like all their best work, it was an album with a scope and ambition to rival the ‘Lips and their fiery ilk. However, despite positivist pop symphonies like `Elevate Myself’, `Rear View Mirror’ and `The Animal World’, the set looked as if a lack of mainstream appreciation – on home soil at least – had consigned GRANDADDY to a pipe-and-slippers scenario all too soon.
Whilst Fairchild found solace within MODEST MOUSE (before going solo as All Smiles), mountain man JASON LYTLE took up the slack for 2009’s YOURS TRULY, THE COMMUTER {*7}. Gone was the gorgeous grandeur of GRANDADDY that had stirred up elitist indie acolytes, and in its place was an autumnal, heavy-lidded solo player relying on his wispy vocal aplomb and intimate symphony synths to push out the envelope. Needless to say, for the most part, the album fell on deaf ears when dispatched by Anti- Records, even though it was peppered by such lush and literate tracks such as `Brand New Sun’, `Birds Encouraging Him’ and the opening title piece.
Aaron Burtch, meanwhile, had been busy contributing cover artwork for the likes of MASON PROPER; that was until his call up to the plate for Jason’s 50/50 joint project EARLIMART’s Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray, under the banner of ADMIRAL RADLEY; the latter performer had guested on “Yours Truly”. I HEART CALIFORNIA (2010) {*7} and its awesome title track assumed a playful role in the err… community (e.g. `Sunburn Kids’, `Ghost Of Syllables’ and skateboard-punk anthem `I’m All Fucked On Beer’), though its zany MOLDY PEACHES motifs got lost under the radar when issued for Espinoza’s all-at-sea Ship imprint.
As a briefly re-united GRANDADDY looked ahead to sporadic festival appearances, JASON LYTLE sort of knocked that idea on the head when he opted to release his sophomore set. 2012’s DEPT. OF DISAPPEARANCE {*7} was another to chase some nocturnal nuance. Loyal fans had come to expect moribund “mellow-days”, and a pastoral but pleasing Jason pored over life’s toils and tumbles on an impressive scale. Yes, he’d disappeared within his Montana mountain studio, but the man could still draw from experience for `Somewhere There’s A Someone’ and `Your Final Setting Sun’ (the latter featuring Swedes DIVISION OF LAURA LEE), but maybe `Matterhorn’, `Last Problem Of The Alps’ and `Chopin Drives Truck To The Dump’ proved just how isolated he’d become.
In 2015, JASON LYTLE and long-time friend/associate Aaron Espinoza jumped at the chance (given to them by exec film producer Mike Cloward) to strum up tunes to complement the original soundtrack to THIS IS YOUR DAY {*6}. The sport-themed movie concerning long-distance running suited Jason down to the ground, so to speak, as he’d run 50k and 50-mile mountain challenges from time to time. Needless to say, the download-only album was as relaxing and pictorial until the build-up of pain kicked in on the finishing stretch. Jason would duly work with BAND OF HORSES on the production of their 2016 fifth set, `Why Are You OK’.
Putting aside his coincided bit-part with indie/chamber-pop studio supergroup that was BNQT’s “Volume 1” set (featuring kingpin figures from MIDLAKE, BAND OF HORSES, FRANZ FERDINAND and TRAVIS), Lytle called upon his old buddies, Burtch, Dryden, Garcia and Fairchild to step out once again as GRANDADDY. Securing a fresh contract with Brian “DANGER MOUSE” Burton’s 30th Century Records, a taster of what was to come arrived in summer 2016 by way of 7-inch `Way We Won’t’. The PAVEMENT-esque track opened up their long, long-awaited comeback record, LAST PLACE {*7}, which cracked the UK Top 20 in April 2017. Thankfully, any recurring MALKMUS manifestations were left out in the cold thereafter, whereas the electro `Evermore’, the dreamy `A Lost Machine’, the buoyant `The Boat In The Barn’, and the humanoid hue of `Jed The 4th’, ironically enlightened their ageing GRANDADDY fanclub.
Sadly, a month after the album’s release, the tragic death, after a stroke, of 41-year-old Kevin Garcia (on May 2nd), left a sour taste at GRANDADDY headquarters. Understandably, the band’s promotional tour was cancelled, and that remained the case until late 2018, when they issued a one-off single, `Bison On The Plains’.
Almost a year down the line, ARTHUR KING PRESENTS JASON LYTLE: NYLON AND JUNO (2019) {*6} – referring to his trusty nylon-string acoustic guitar and his Juno synthesizer – was a set of nine instrumentals that configured a plateau between electro-noodling and desert-dune romanticism. Pick of the bunch, `Dry Gulched On Rodeo Drive’, `Change Of Address / 433 Eros’ and `15 Items Or Lesson You’, only closely resembled GRANDADDY if it were a long-lost cousin twice removed from an abandoned soundtrack.
© MC Strong/MCS 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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