Jason Lytle - Vocals, guitars, keyboards
Kevin Garcia - Bass
Aaron Burtch - Drums
Jim Fairchild - Guitars
Tim Dryden - Keyboards
FOREWORD WITH THANKS TO WIKIPEDIA.ORG
Grandaddy was formed in 1992 by Jason Lytle, Kevin Garcia and Aaron Burtch. Jim Fairchild and Tim Dryden joined in 1995.
Categorizing Grandaddy is not easy. Sure, basically it's guitar-oriented alternative rock comparable to Sparklehorse and Eels (Lytle's fragile and slightly monotonous voice adds up to this), but keyboards and samples manage to untie a fair bit of those connections, re-tying them to a wide range of artists such as Pink Floyd, Philip Glass.
Their lyrics are very noticeable, because they form a strange blend between cynicism and unworldly naiveness - they express a melancholic feeling of isolation in a high-tech world, more often than not very beautifully phrased.
"Under the western freeway" was their first LP. It portrays Grandaddy as a band with a clearly recognizable sound - they express their "technofobia" by using vintage equipment (canny drums, crunchy distortion, trebly bass, 70's keyboards). At the same time, they are inventing music, trying different arrangements, experimenting with sounds. On other words, they are a diverse band with a clear trademark, and they show a lot of perspective to improving.
Opener 'Nonphenomenal lineage' is about a man who gets dismissed at the hospital because apparently there's nothing they can do for him anymore. This news receives him in a cold, bureaucratically emotionless manner. Grandaddy chose to accompany this by a blissful acoustic underscore, revolving around a deceptively simple, folky guitar-duet, and abruptly ending in a weird, a-rythmical coda.
Next up is 'A.M. 180', the most well-known song on the album, being the most directly coherent. It's a grungy rock song built on a bleepy keyboard melody, but while swaying back and forth to the catchy 12/8 you find the lyrics again contrast vastly:
if you come down we'll go to town/I haven't been there for years/
but I’d be fine wasting our time/not doing anything here/just doing nothing/
With these 2 songs they set the pace for the record perfectly: we now know we can expect slow to moderate, melodic and melancholic music interspersed with prog-rock outbursts and noise soundscapes. We also know that we will be surprised quite a few times. We can now sit back and curiously await the rest of the album.
Other songs that deserve a mention:
'Laughing stock' really stands out, a simplistic composition. I believe it is about how they stubbornly and slightly frustrated keep on playing their music even if audiences are laughing in their faces. It has the best vocals on the album - the verses are sung with as much nuance as Lytle's voice can express, and when in the chorus the guitar plugs in he displays a hypnotizingly beautiful falsetto:
and we agree/it's what we need/orchestra-real/
'Summer here kids' is about the deceptiveness of advertising. In this particular example Lytle frantically relates how he was promised a "good time" by "tourist info" but had rather stayed at home. It's the fastest and loudest song on here, especially the chorus is a hysterical frenzy against the disappointment of not getting what you were promised. Very funny.
'Why took your advice' again stresses Alone Good, Other People Bad with every core. It's a slow, piano-based song with beautiful lyrics, describing how after opening up yourself to someone and getting rejected, you lose your lust for life:
I took your advice/and bought the microscope/but I can't find anything/I wanna see up close/why took your advice"/
It has a chilling synth solo as well.
In conclusion, "Under the western freeway" is a very nice listen. Grandaddy makes you sad, then comforts you. It leaves some dynamic balance to be desired - it tends to become drifty and hard to keep paying attention to. Luckily, on their later albums they widened their territory even more, structuring their material more subtly and exchanged some introverted melancholy for rock-hard sarcasm. This album shows enough perspective to predict such.
If somehow (and I know this is possible, I've seen it happen) someone thinks that this is as good as it gets for Grandaddy because they are amateuristic musicians with not much theoretical knowledge, just tell em that the sample that goes "Swoop swoop swoop swoop" on 'Collective dreamwish of upper class elegance' moves in 3/16 against the 4/4 of the song.