Beer & Vinyl: Grandaddy – Sumday

...an afterthought of what was probably once a pretty sincere dream of a well manicured yard.

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Artist Grandaddy
Album Sumday
Label V2
Year 2003

Like the lawn mowers in their hometown of Modesto, CA, Grandaddy is likely covered in dust in the corner of a garage somewhere – now an afterthought of what was probably once a pretty sincere dream of a well manicured yard.  They were put there by a farmer who keeps his farm-tools and his old computer in the same corner of the same dusty shed.  Consisting of unironic trucker hats, songs about space and robots, drugs, and Korgs, Grandaddy comes packaged like a Redneck-Radiohead ready to make you sad and happy for no apparent reason.  If Neil Young had been raised on Alan Parsons Project records and ELO he might have ended up like Jason Lytle, Grandaddy’s wild-eyed and ever-tumultuous front-man and main contributor.  Their promising career cut short by drugs, exhaustion, self-doubt, and dissatisfaction, Grandaddy has left a brief but harrowing musical legacy that will likely never leave my vinyl collection.  I love this band too much.

Grandaddy hails from Central California, just like me, and that has fueled my love for them since the first time I discovered that information.  Maybe “hails from” is not the appropriate term here.  It’s not the kind of place that people really hail from, Central California.  In words that are similar to those that I use to describe myself, I will here declare that Grandaddy somehow managed to end up the way they did while being from Central California.  I was born in Fresno, and so was guitarist Jim Fairchild.  Everything about them screams Central California, from their unironic trucker hats, to the fact that they have a Mexican band member and two ex-pro skaters, to their love of nature and fear of impending technology.  Modesto, their base of operations, is a shitty place full of smog, crime, drugs, and blue-collar stiffs.  Historically referred to as “The Breadbasket of the World(!)” the Central Valley of California is quickly turning to impoverished industry as farmland is paved and yadda yadda yadda.

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At their heart Grandaddy was a band of country boys who were mad and scared about their country air not being so fresh  anymore.  Their songs are about trying to find personal  and professional success against all odds.  You know?  I like these guys.

OK.

Sumday, their 2003 album, ended up being their final record as a band since their official swan song, 2006′s Just Like the Fambly Cat, was written, performed, and recorded by frontman Jason Lytle mostly by himself. Despite the fact that it is easily Grandaddy’s most catchy and marketable work, Sumday is a puzzling experience from start to finish.  The songs  are all pretty similarly poppy which was weird for a band that spent the better part of their career taking flak for being too weird and copying Radiohead.  My puzzlement regarding Sumday actually begins with the album’s title: Sumday.  I was at one point certain it was a play on “someday,” but now I think it is more of a play on “Sunday.”  Sunday is the 7th day of God’s week.  It is a day of rest and (in Lytle’s case) reflection.  “Sum”day, the day that you sit down in the “sun” and reflect on the “sum” of your week, or in Lytle’s case, your life and career (thus far) as a musician and person.

The main criticism that I find while reading other peoples’ reviews is that the first six or so songs sound a lot like each other, sharing a strikingly similar key and tempo.  Sumday, Grandaddy’s third album features pop cohesion in a way that they hinted at in their previous albums but never really touched with both hands.  “Hewlett’s Daughter” is a pop masterpiece from The Sophtware Slump that could have easily fit in on Sumday.  “Hewlett’s Daughter” is one of the most beloved of Grandaddy’s Songs and for some reason people got kind of mad when they decided to channel that type of pop-songwriting for more than one consecutive track.  Maybe the good stuff of Grandaddy’s albums was made more enjoyable by the compartmentalization of their pop, sandwiched between dreamy interludes and spacey breaks of Moog-fueled lollygagging.  The words that come to mind are “Pure Frosting” or “Muffin Tops.”  Some people need cake beneath their frosting.

But, in my case, hand me a carton of frosting and a spoon cause I fucking love Sumday.

Am I overdoing this? Grandaddy, the band, found themselves at a crossroads with Sumday.  After two critically beloved albums they had not yet become even the slightest bit popular or been able to shed any Radiohead comparisons.  Still an opening act for Pete Yorn 6 years into their discography, Grandaddy was really tired when they entered the studio to record their third album.  The soft and somber songs all seem to reflect this pretty plainly.  “The Final Push to the Sum,” the closing track of the record, ends with Lytle’s broken falsetto asking “If my old life is done/then what have I become?”  And with thirty seconds remaining in the track Lytle can be heard saying “Start the fade right here.”  Lytle’s quavering refrain is a fitting end to the record (and, basically, the band).  I can’t think of any vocalists that get to me as much as Jason Lytle, who was born with probably the most honest and fragile singing voice that I have ever heard.

THE BEER: Black Star

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Black Star is a product of The Great Northern Brewing Company and it is produced and distributed in Whitefish, MT.  Montana is where Grandaddy frontman, Jason Lytle, moved after Grandaddy broke up.  I figured this was the perfect beer for this review.  It is dirt cheap and comes in either a cool looking yellow tall can or a brown-bottle six-pack.  Like most cheap beers, Black Star packaging mentions some brewing process that is suppsoed to make it taste better than the other cheap beers– the fact that it is double-hopped.  But also, like most cheap beers, Black Star tastes a lot like a cheap beer.  Not to say that it is disgusting, it is not.  Black Star is a fine cheap beer, and it’s one of those cheap beers that feels distinctly American and Blue-Collar, just in case you’re like me and you like to act like you are a little grittier than you actually are.  Get a can of it and go work on your car or something.  Something about this beer begs you to drink it outside.

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