Jason Lytle has been my favorite songwriter since the back to back brilliance of Grandaddy's The Sophtware Slump and Sumday, two of my favorite albums of all time. I've enjoyed the material since then, both as Grandaddy and recording now solo, but this year's Dept. Of Disappearance is my favorite work of his since Sumday. In fact, it's so good it places at #3 on my Best Albums of 2012.
Favorite Tracks: "Last Problem Of The Alps", "Somewhere There's A Someone", "Dept. Of Disappearance", "Your Final Setting Sun"
2012 was a busy year for Jason Lytle. He reunited with his Grandaddy band-mates for a series of live shows, the first time the band was active since he announced their split in 2006. He also played some solo shows, put out a very limited run EP on his Australian tour and finished work on his second solo album.
So that brings us to said album, Dept. Of Disappearance, the follow-up to his 'solo debut', 2009's Yours Truly, The Commuter. As much as I enjoyed the last album, it had the sound of a man refreshed and rejuvenated after leaving the baggage of Grandaddy and his hometown of Modesto, California behind, Dept. of Disappearance is the album I have been waiting for since Grandaddy's 2003 masterpiece Sumday. Yes, I know 2000's The Sophtware Slump is the one that put the band on the map and the critics still fawn over, and I consider that another masterpiece, but I love Sumday equally and it holds an especially strong place in my heart as a lot of the lyrics hit close to home personally. It's no secret Lytle was the brains behind Grandaddy, writing, producing and recording the majority of their studio material, so I have no problem looking at his work seamlessly, regardless of the name on the record.
And that is what I love so much about Dept. of Disappearance. So much of the sound that made me fall in love with Grandaddy's work is back. The fuzzed out guitars of the title track and "Your Final Setting Sun", the strange electronic effects, blips and bloops that just make sense wherever they are placed, the achingly gorgeous melodies and harmonies, the mixture of the standard and the weird. It is all here and Lytle has returned to the absolute top of his craft.
The title track is textbook Lytle, opening with an audio test pattern, then ominous keyboards before the rocking guitar starts in and he makes his threats to disappear, invoking imagery he has utilized his whole career. "You'll never get away with this, you'll never get away with me. I'll crawl into the mountains, I'll fall into obscurity" he sings. He has long wrestled with his love of the studio and the outdoors interfering with the 'game' of the music industry, the tours, the lifestyle that drags him away from what makes him happy and it's crystallized in this track. The other heavier rock track, "Your Final Setting Sun" is a tale of a man facing his mortality. Lytle is back in fine story telling form, one of the many reasons he stands as my favorite songwriter. Of course both songs are drenched in melodic 'oohs' and 'ahhs' as is another standout, "Young Saints".
"Willow Wand Willow Wand" and album closer "Gimme Click Gimme Grid" are more keyboard and electronic heavy, the former essentially a sweet little pop tune, the latter an over eight minute experimentation where Lytle throws everything he can at the track, drum machines, keyboard effects, and vocoder mesh with the standard piano/guitar/bass/drums instrumentation. It's a song that would make Jeff Lynne proud as Lytle has declared often what an admirer of Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra he is. It's an obvious influence on his music, and makes perfect sense as to why I connected with his music so easily as I loved ELO as a child and still do.
Of course no Jason Lytle project would be complete without at least a couple epic ballads and he truly tops himself this time. There are three brilliant new ones contained here starting with "Matterhorn", the album's second track. Mountain imagery is obviously huge on this album as it also plays a key role in my personal favorite track, "Last Problem Of The Alps". A track that starts as a standard piano rock ballad suddenly deteriorates into heavenly keyboard washes and wind effects before Lytle returns with just his voice, piano and some ambient noises (is that a bird chirp?), now describing his isolation and loneliness at an obvious relationship that has fallen apart. For those that worried the now married Lytle would be incapable of still writing this kind of material, fear no more. It's an absolutely mesmerizing song, filled with instrumentation when recalling the good times and stripped barren and cold when faced with his current loss.
"Somewhere There's A Someone" closes the trio of amazing ballads. The song is based on a piano piece called, ironically enough, "Good Chord Song For LP Two" that appeared on a download only release of improvisational piano music by Lytle called Merry X-Mas 2009. Now fully fleshed out, it's a sad but stunningly beautiful song of lost love now in the arms of another.
Lytle has stated he has an interest in recording another album under the Grandaddy name, it intrigues him and I'm sure his fans would love to see it. But Dept. Of Disappearance, though not topping them, sits right up there with The Sophtware Slump and Sumday as his best work and reaffirms my belief in his songwriting and production genius.
Dept. Of Disappearance was released October 16, 2012 on Anti- Records.