By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"There's a constant honing of the craft," he says. "The types of records that we prefer are ones that are more linear in the sense that this song sort of coaxes you into this mood. The segues and bridges should all flow together pretty well. The bridges take you from mood to mood. This time there was a definite eye toward making a really linear record that could be listened to from front to back."
For the most part, Grandaddy's music does flow together pretty well--waxing and waning, pushing and pulling. Two-thirds of Grandaddy's songs are slight, tragic epics, while the rest are made up of electric, cathartic rock. It's a sonic marriage employed by other like-minded bands, including The Flaming Lips, and, yes, Radiohead. Fairchild confronts the inevitable comparisons head-on.
"We have a constant eye toward development," he begins. "There are only so many bands out there that are trying to make rich, orchestrated music, and once you throw in a sensitivity toward relationships with humans, the development and the comparison gets clearer. But we're not trying to become the new Radiohead," Fairchild concludes emphatically.
Bright Eyes and The Polyphonic Spree open
The Sophtware Slump might not be OK Computer, but it's nearly as haunting musically and lyrically. The album's theme is the creation and degeneration of "Jed the Humanoid." As the songs reveal, Jed, or Jeddy 3 as he's first known, is assembled in the kitchen from "failed clones and odd parts." Jed's inventors delight in his ability to run, walk, sing, think, and talk. Eventually Jed gets into the booze and he "fizzled and popped, he rattled and knocked, and finally he just stopped." Like a nightmare of a nursery rhyme, Lytle makes keen commentary with tongue still firmly in cheek. The bearded songwriter is a darker, postmodern, musical version of Dr. Seuss. Rather than lapsing into lengthy diatribe about Jed's significance in relation to modern man, both Lytle and Fairchild simply play the song off as being about how "alcohol and machinery don't mix too well." Right.
Grandaddy's smugness isn't limited to interviews, either. Like an impudent child testing the boundaries with a stern parent, the band sent V2 a phony tape of the new album just to "shake things up." Further capitalizing on their sense of humor, the band would broadcast some of the phony songs after performances in Europe.
"The first three songs were sort of listenable," says Fairchild. "They kind of have a melody and little story in the lyrics and deal with robots--which are touchstones of what they expect out of us. Needless to say, V2 was not pleased, and audiences were simply perplexed.
The real Sophtware Slump, however, is a fully developed, rich drama of an album. The disc pushes off with the tranquil, sweet-sounding "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot." With erratic bleeps and foreboding, chorale-like strings, the song ebbs and flows beautifully, recalling both Radiohead's "Karma Police" and "Paranoid Android." Reaching the climax and the refrain, Lytle whines, "Did you love this world and this world not love you?" to the "2000 Man" who lost his maps and plans. Later, the narrator encourages 2000 Man not to give in, as the song's trebly melody finally bursts into a rumbling piano dirge.
Though Fairchild bristles at the word "cinematic," that's exactly what this album is; the bright, up-tempo songs are the action sequences, while the lulling, pensive songs are the dramatic dialogue scenes.
But, as with almost everything that surrounds Grandaddy, it's not quite so simple. The beauty of the lively-sounding songs is that they're still dark lyrically. "The Crystal Lake"--a bouncy pop song--illustrates the point with its tale of an "area where trees are fake, and dogs are dead with broken hearts." "Broken Household Appliance National Forest" describes meadows polluted with microwaves, air conditioners, and vacuum bags. The animals inhabit the land, with owls flying out of oven doors and frogs housing in refrigerators. The song is alternately peaceful and jaunty, illustrating the contrast of "flowers that reside with filthy rags." "Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)" has a weaving organ melody and details Jed's demise "lower than ground, beautiful ground." Lytle seems to find beauty in the sadness and pathetic end of all his characters. The radiance of his music is in the haunting refrains, the sparse odd notes, the flourishes under layers of fuzz and distortion that become the highlights of the songs.
Despite all evidence to the contrary--the CD artwork, which the band created, displays fragmented Macintosh keyboards filled with dirt and rubble--Fairchild insists that Grandaddy's ethic is not anti-technology, but a constant questioning of how necessary anything is. The necessity of the Rancho Seco power plant didn't last. Let's hope Grandaddy's music does.