Review Summary: I just moved here, and I don't wanna live here anymore.
Hearing Jason Lytle's wonderfully distracted, broken voice is something of a nostalgia trip in itself. The most easily reached-for comparison is the technically awful but emotionally brilliant falsetto of Wayne Coyne; but these days Coyne dwells almost exclusively in nonsense or stoner bro "dude… what if"s. The resonance of Lytle's vocals skews closer to that of early Isaac Brock or even Doug Martsch: a human personification of the flat landscapes, disappointment and sheer existential boredom of the American lonesome crowded west. But Grandaddy largely eschew messy guitars and screams for a piano-driven gentleness, and Last Place
is no different: more an exasperated sigh than a shout of desperation.
The song most of interest to old-school fans is surely "Jed the 4th", a new installment in what has to be the saddest series of songs ever written about a machine. The Jed quadrilogy has functioned almost like a sci-fi update of the Weakerthans' Virtute pieces; the contrast of Jed 3's inherent remoteness with the poignancy of the increasing depression in his poems is an obvious microcosm of Grandaddy's strengths as a whole. This introduction to his son, the titular Jed the 4th is hardly the strongest entry in the series, although it does give us one of its finest moments when Lytle goes full meta. "You know it's all a metaphor, for being drunk and on the floor", with "metaphor" pitch-shifted just in case you missed what they're getting at here
. All in all, it's a fitting end(?) to one of indie rock's most beloved characters. This wonky electronic ballad is not in bad company on Last Place
either; "That's What You Get for Gettin' Outta Bed" and "Songbird Son" strip down the music to bare essentials to genuinely devastating effect, with the latter functioning as a perfect closer for a band that ultimately did write about people who were sad a lot of the time.
Not to give the impression that it's all dour existentialism and sadness here. Openers "Way We Won't" and "Brush With the Wild" are appropriate slices of pure 90s nostalgia, with sloppy guitars and a decent helping of fuzz, while "Evermore" flirts with brash electronics to, well, not bad results. Decidedly Soft Bulletin
-esque epic "The Lost Machine" is the richest and most complete musical piece, with layers of crashing drums and cavernous guitars providing a vivid landscape. There's nothing here that truly scrapes the stars like The Sophtware Slump
's bookends did, but maybe that's the point; Last Place
is a fittingly contented throwback/possible farewell. Grandaddy always excelled at using their stargazing themes as a way to worm into the issues that hit closest to home, their obsession with machines and robots and home appliances always just a surface level masking their real interest in what makes humans tick, especially when that ticking is arrhythmic or off kilter. Maybe this is the start of some dusty wave of 90s indie rock nostalgia, more likely just a surprising last lap from one of the decade's most well-buried treasures. Either way, don't move house without it.