Grandaddy: Sumday (V2/Will Records)

Lytle quietly pines for a lost love, emphasizes his own predilection to lie and cheat, and speaks quite frankly to human-kind’s separation from itself, suggesting that maybe the machines are more honest.

Nature versus technology. Man versus machine. Man as machine? This seems to be the fear of Grandaddy, who, after three albums and several EPs, still obsess over the sad state of postindustrial society. In a good way. The Sophtware Slump proved to be one of the best records of the final years of the previous millennium, exploring technology through grand, operatic synth textures, alcoholic robots, and rusting appliances. “Give in,” it cried. “There’s little hope.” The album was a triumph, musically and thematically.

Which brings us to Sumday, the California band’s new release. As despondent as The Sophtware Slump was, Sumday bristles with acceptance, the next step on the stairway to admitting your fear of the future. Chugging guitars replace the airiness of their former effort, and frontman Jason Lytle sounds, well, happy. At least for a while.

While the brilliance of The Sophtware Slump lies in the emotive range of the music, Sumday allows its listener to ride a wave of similarity, perhaps to echo the general feeling of “okayness” that the album proclaims for its first two-thirds. Thematically, this is a grand idea, but the album suffers for it. The first seven tracks tread the same water: mid-tempo, four-minute pop nuggets, complete with acoustic strums and viscous analog synths. On their own, each is a strong effort, with highlights including the opener, “Now It’s On,” and “‘Yeah’ Is What We Had.” But when all are strung together, the sequence gets rather boring. Where is the range of Sophtware? Where are those troughs and peaks? It’s almost as though the first two-thirds of Sumday is disposable, as though the band favored its ideas over substance.

Which brings me to the final five songs. I mentioned the “okay-ness” in the first seven songs, but I did not mention that the feeling erodes as soon as “Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World” begins its first pathetic piano tinklings. From that point on, we see what Grandaddy can do, the landscapes they can create. While “Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake” is reminiscent of Under the Western Freeway’s “A.M. 180,” it is more careful and more poignant. By “The Warming Sun,” the album’s true apex, it’s obvious that Grandaddy cannot escape its sadness. Lytle quietly pines for a lost love, emphasizes his own predilection to lie and cheat, and speaks quite frankly to human-kind’s separation from itself, suggesting that maybe the machines are more honest. Beautiful and baroque, Sumday’s final tracks demonstrate the ability of one of America’s most exciting bands, one that, even when making a misstep, can simultaneously create some of the most exquisite music out right now.

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