Grandaddy and Earlimart have been kindred spirits for years now. From touring together, to band members appearing on each others' albums, the friendships struck between the two California based bands made it seem inevitable a full blown collaboration would happen at some point.
Jason Lytle dissolved Grandaddy in 2006 but re-emerged last year with his fine first solo album. Earlimart are coming off back-to back new album releases in 2007 and 2008, so this seems like the perfect time to reignite this long hoped for project. The original concept for this collaboration was a four song EP credited to Earlidaddy with two songs, "Red Curbs" and "I Heart California", featuring Lytle on vocals, and the other two, "Chingas In The West" and "The Ending Of Me", with Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza as the lead singer. Demos of the songs have circulated amongst collectors of the bands for years but, other than a few false release dates, the project was kept on the back burner.
Now at long last this "super group", now named Admiral Radley (Lytle and Grandaddy's drummer Aaron Burtch along with Espinoza and his Earlimart partner Ariana Murray), is set to unleash their first release and the EP has blossomed into a full album containing those original four tracks along with seven new ones.
There are no major surprises on "I Heart California". The Earlimart sung tracks sound like Earlimart songs and the Lytle sung tracks sound like Grandaddy songs. I wasn't expecting anything less so no disappointment there. What is refreshing though is the looseness prevalent throughout the entire album. This has all the feel of a group of long time buds getting together without any grand statement or concept, and just making music for the fun of it. Both bands have tackled some heavier subject matter in the past and this simply doesn't seem the place for it. You can hear the blast they must have had recording this oozing out of many of the songs.
As much as I enjoyed Lytle's solo debut "Yours Truly, The Commuter" last year, it was a rather mellow, ballad heavy affair. So it is nice to hear him do a track like Admiral Radley's "Sunburn Kids", a crunchy rocker reminiscent of pre-"Sophtware Slump" era Grandaddy with a 'We burn!' chant in the chorus serving as a shout out to the kids "gettin' sunburns no matter what the people say" all over the world. The breakdown gives a perfect example of the playful atmosphere AdRad operates in as Lytle calls out locations such as Hawaii, China and Jamaica, while instruments from those areas play in the background. "Red Curbs" is another guitar heavy rock song from Lytle, as he looks back on his younger skateboarding days ("I miss those times/when I would ride/red curbs all night").
The title track which opens the album, and also serves as its first single, is vintage Lytle. Witty lyrics dripping with sarcasm about his home state ('drugs fall out of diaper bags as Midwesterners stare', "fake tits in the symphony") that lead into a melodic chorus to die for, with Murray doing her best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression in the background and a Grandaddy-esque keyboard loop thrown in for good measure.
Two ballads round out the Lytle contributions. "I Left U Cuz I Luft U", a song he's been performing live off and on for the last year, closes out the album. It calls to mind some of the ballads that wound up as Grandaddy B-Sides in the past, a sparse drum machine beat underneath piano and various keyboard effects. "GNDN" may be the most beautiful (and only) song ever written about Star Trek, specifically the Enterprise ("with its cardboard parts/and its lightbulb stars/it nearly fell apart/still it captured hearts"), although the song can also be viewed as a metaphor for Admiral Radley itself. "The critics would say the sounds you would make were so second-rate/ and your instruments were fake/ well of course they were fake" Lytle sings in the breakdown, before heading back into the chorus of "It goes nowhere and it does nothing". Much like the low budget Enterprise set was beloved, so too can this group of friends' new band without making some huge musical statement and sticking to what they know best.
The Earlimart songs here all sound like they'd fit on any of their recent albums, especially the ones with Espinoza on vocals. "Ghosts Of Syllables" is the highlight of the bunch, with an "ah ah ah" chorus that is impossible to forget after one listen, it's another display of pure Earlimart pop perfection. The twangy "Lonesome Co." and rocker "Ending Of Me" are also typical Espinoza gems. The repetitive "Chingas In The West" is the only real average track here.
As enjoyable as the Lytle and Espinoza tracks are, it would be easy to forget about Ariana Murray, but she makes that impossible with her contribution, "The Thread". A shuffling waltz-like ballad of exquisite beauty, Murray's heartfelt, touching lyric is proof you can do a love song without falling into sappy territory ("Will we live to 98? Watch our hair go gray/Will we go out with a bang? Will we fade away?/In other words I hope that we'll still hold hands/ and laugh about the way things end"). As great at songwriting as Lytle and Espinoza are, Murray steals the show with "The Thread".
The sense of care free fun that permeates the album is best summed up with the hilarious electro-freakout "I'm All Fucked On Beer". Espinoza, Lytle and Murray all contribute vocals to the madness and there should be a prize awarded to the first person to guess the insane number of F-bombs dropped in the song. Anyone who takes this song seriously or tries to derive any other meaning from it clearly doesn't get the AdRad sense of humor. The song dissolves into in-studio laughter with an "oh, crimey" from Lytle as the song fades.
"I Heart California" pleasantly turned out exactly as I had hoped. All the elements that have made Grandaddy and Earlimart two of the best bands around for over a decade are here, wonderfully combined. It's as enjoyable to listen to as it sounds like it was to record, and here's hoping this becomes a project the four return to instead of a one-off. We all need some music that puts a smile on our faces. "I Heart California" puts a huge-ass grin on mine. Your mission is accomplished Admiral Radley.
"I Heart California" will be released in the U.S. July 13, 2010 on Espinoza's new label, The Ship. A special deluxe edition is available exclusively through the band's website that will contain lots of extras and goodies unavailable on the commercial release. Links are below.