GRANDADDY opening for Pete Yorn at the Guvernment (132 Queen's Quay East), Wednesday (May 7). $25.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The psychic dramas of the rich and famous can make for marvellous entertainment when drug- and depression-induced mayhem ensues. Who didn't gloat - and cringe - at Whitney Houston's recent tabloid-worthy meltdown? But for those whose muse is more melancholic, existential chaos leads to great art. Take Jason Lytle. The sensitive songwriter behind decade-old Modesto indie rockers Grandaddy followed up his heavy post-tour burnout by recording Sumday (V2), a stunning psych-art rock epic slated to drop in June.
Lytle says after surviving the "big fuckin' circus" of touring life, making Grandaddy's first full-length since 2000's critically lauded The Sophtware Slump was a particularly painstaking process.
"Every step of this band's evolution has to be justified. Things have to become bigger, better, happier, fatter, fuller. More than anything else, I had to make sure I was 100 per cent focused on every single song. So the way we recorded the album wasn't by jumping around, laying down parts from track to track, but by trying to find the absolute essence of each song and live with it and not let it be done until it's done."
That obsessive attention to detail resulted in a spectacular set of Pet Sounds-tinged, lushly layered tunes in which Lytle's worries about whether or not he'd get his shit together, as he puts it, are transformed into metaphor-laced stories of robotic jobs, abandoned lots and the dark side of living in a dream world. With those themes, Lytle's reedy vocals, well-chosen found sounds and Grandaddy's killer band - guitarist Jim Fairchild, bassist Kevin Garcia, drummer Aaron Burtch and keyboardist Tim Dryden - on board, Sumday sometimes comes off as a more organic orch-pop companion piece to last year's Flaming Lips epic, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.
Lytle's a bit weirded out by the comparison. Aside from the fact that the Lips' disc "spooked" him with its techno undertones, he claims he pretty much cut himself off from other folks' tunage while working on Sumday.
"I started sifting through our own back catalogue 'cause I'd kinda detached myself from everything and needed to find myself again - for lack of a better term - musically."
Maybe this experiment in musical auto-archaeology helped Grandaddy succeed in creating a record that showcases their growth as a band. Sumday stands alone as a remarkably fresh-sounding disc, but hovering in the cracks you can hear traces of Grandaddy's sonic progression from The Sophtware Slump's Radioheadish computer-tweaked twang all the way back to their embryonic roots as a Cali punk outfit.
Lytle's not nostalgic for those early years.
"What put us over the edge was when that explosion of Green Day candy-coated punk rock popped up out of nowhere. We were just dirtbags, playing with crappy-ass equipment, trying to scrounge up enough money to buy a new set of strings for the guitar, using revolving rehearsal spaces. We were playing shows to all these little rich kids, kids who were getting tattoos to look tough.
"We were so turned off by artificial punk rock that we decided to rebel and started taking more of a Mogwai or Low approach, slowing things down a lot. When we found that was making people uncomfortable and angry, we thought, 'Shit, we're even more punk rock now if we're pissing people off.'"