There was a TV show I used to love as a kid – which a lot of Facebooking has reminded me was called Potsworth & Co. – in which the central premise was that four children and their dog would go to sleep at night they turn up in the Dream Zone. There, as the Midnight Patrol, they were appointed by the pyjama-clad genteel king The Grand Dozer to undertake missions given to them by the Snooze Patrol (so hard not to make a ‘Chasing Cars’ joke here). It was by no means a children’s classic in the ilk of, say, Round the Twist, and very few of my friends remember it. Nonetheless it had an enduring appeal to me as there was something about its imagery, pillows and clouds and mattresses and shut eye, that seems kinda comforting even now.
So it used to be that when I listened to Jason Lytle’s old band Grandaddy - if not kings then certainly esteemed lords of low-fi comforting dream indie - it would be Potsworth & Co. that would come to mind. From their 1997/98 debut Under the Western Freeway through to their initial disbandment in 2006 the band became intrinsically intertwined with that half-asleep sound that characterised their second album of resigned melancholic genius The Sophtware Slump.
Fans of Lytle’s work to date will be pleased to hear that his latest solo release, Dept. Of Disappearance has lost none of that slumberland appeal; indeed Lytle himself has described the album as an attempt to create 'the soundtrack to a non-existent cinematic masterpiece'. With bleeps and bloops and modulated keyboards combining to obfuscate themselves at the bottom of an ominously slow tide amid shimmering rays of light, highlights such as the album’s title track and ‘Hangtown’ are languorous works of beauty that can make the listener swoon as heavily as even the best songs in the Grandaddy canon.
What’s missing here though is the real left-turn to make the record stand out. After all, ‘The Crystal Lake’ may have been a stunning song when it was first released in May 2000, but over the past few years that same dreaminess and heavy reverb has become commonplace, still sometimes stunning but all-too-often reduced to cheap tricks used to secure critical brownie points by countless indiepop also-rans. Even the tone of the lyrics has changed to match the current faux-alternative landscape. Gone is the light-Loveless vibe, now on the perky ‘Get Up and Go’ Lytle sings “Get up and go, you can do it, everything’s gonna be alright”: it might reflect a more mature, positive singer, but it still sounds like it should be soundtracking a 3 Mobile advert in which a group of overly-attractive twentysomething hipsters run around in autumn leaves dressed like they just stepped out of a Next catalogue.
Dept. of Disappearance is a good album that makes for a pleasing listen, despite its lack of ambition. Still, for an artist so adept at conveying warmth, you feel strangely cold to be stuck in his same recurring dream.
6Dan Lucas's Score