Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
      ( 5/19/2009 10:28:00 AM ) Bill S.  

OK COMMUTER After disbanding Grandaddy three years ago to spend some away time elevating himself, singer/songwriter Jason Lytle has happily returned to the home studio. Produced in his relocated digs in the wilds of Montana, Yours Truly, the Commuter (Anti) finds our thoughtful hero holding up in a snowbound winter, ruminating on life, mortality and decay. Usual themes for the former Modesto skateboarder (check out the photo of his scratched-up legs on the CD booklet!), but still appropriate for these struggling times.

Lytle's first official solo disc sounds of a piece with the music he released as the leader of Grandaddy: lots of emphasis on strumming folkiness and mid tempo rockin' spiced with faux orchestral and electro flourishes. If the CD begins to flag a bit by the last five or six tracks (could've used a skate punk track like "50%," perhaps), a quick shuffle will get you noticing the disc's later sweeter moments like "Rollin Home Alone," which sounds exactly like Grandaddy fans can already hear in their minds.

The opener title song sets things up succinctly, Lytle telling us in that high-pitched, contemplatively resigned croon of his that "I may be limping, but I'm coming home." The conflicting desires to sing to the world and hide away from it provide meaty lyrical subject matter -- in "The Birds Encouraged Him," a nameless boy tries to hide in a hole as the sounds of nature keep trying to force him out of it -- though at times the listener can't help worrying whether Lytle's own retreat into the mountains hasn't blinkered his distinctive eye for lyrical specificity. No refs to Ikea lamps or rusting El Caminos here, folks.

Still, there are plenty of great tracks here for those who've loved this perennial indy cult spaceman. California-splashed "Brand New Sun" takes up the battered and bruised imagery ("I might fall down, and my back is bad") of the disc's opener and answers it with a paean to sol that I'd love to hear a croaking Brian Wilson cover. The melancholy "Ghost of My Old Dog" depicts the singer ruminating on passed pets as a misunderstanding lover jealously accuses him of thinking of an old flame. "It's the Weekend" provides Ramones-y spareness over some engagingly fuzzy guitarwork and keyboards. And every once in a while, the guy sneaks a trace of lo-fi prog rock into the mix, much as he did in the glory days of The Sophtware Slump.

"Sudden death is just boring," our hero succinctly whines on Commuter's finale, "so I'm here for good." Great to hear, Jason.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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