Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump

Grandaddy
The Sophtware Slump

Hipster-hyped bands are sort of like new cars – they depreciate in value the second you drive them off the lot, no matter how shiny they are or how well the run. The reason for this is somewhat logical: hip people hype bands that they see as “below the radar” or “obscure” but have somehow managed to escape the focus of record buyers. The inherent problem with this, of course, is that by the time you – record buying peon that you are – have heard of the band, they are no longer cool. The hipsters – indier-than-thou geniuses that they are – have already moved on.

Given the confusing dichotomy that exists above, I have become awfully wary of hipster bands. I’ve gotten burned on too many records to listen to hip people. So why did I buy the Grandaddy album? Why did I get sucked in? Call it boredom. I wandered the record store for a half-hour, and this was the only thing that even remotely interested me. So what relevance does this all have to you? Well, since this album is nearly a year old, you get an unadulterated look at how a hipster-hyped album stands up after some of the hype surrounding the band has died down.

The first song on the album, “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot,” is everything I wanted from this album: cascading synths surround spaced-up vocals and some unique melodies. The song is eight-plus minutes long and morphs from acoustic simplicity to gorgeous string sections. Given the bar set by the first song and all the heralding the album had received, my expectations began to rise. Unfortunately, the album never quite matches the level of excellence achieved on the first song. Luckily, it comes close.

The first time I ran through the rest of the album, I thought the level of Flaming Lips mimicry was absurd. Everything from the linear storytelling of “Jed the Humanoid” to the tender, weary ballad “Under the Weeping Willow” sounds like it could have come straight off of The Soft Bulletin. Subsequent listens dulled that notion however, as Grandaddy’s unique style started to shine through. Buzzing Pavement-esque guitars flirted with analog keyboards and more of those detached-through-technology lyrics that have become so popular. The lyrics unabashedly shift from arty obscurities to the aforementioned storytelling (please see “Hewlett’s Daughter” for a perfect example). The melodies don’t reach Elliot Smith’s perfect retro sounds, but they’ll stick in your head just as long. Grandaddy really make a few of these songs work. “The Crystal Lake” churns with a pleading melody, and “Under the Weeping Willow” is really beautiful. “Chartsengrafs” and “Broken Household Appliance National Forest” serve as the album’s pacing, as their buzzing, punk guitars contrast the delicate melodies of the rest of the album quite well. “Jed’s Other Poem” brims over with fuzzed-out keyboards and eerie atmospheres, and the last song, “So You’ll Aim Towards the Sky” uses gorgeous strings and an aching melody to bring the album to a close. Not surprisingly though, Grandaddy’s formula occasionally wears on the ears. The tired, boring melody in “Jed the Humanoid” makes it hard to listen to, and the spoken word segments of “Miner at the Dial-a-View” stop the song so often that its annoying. Those are minor quibbles though, amongst an otherwise solid set of songs.

So what exactly is the verdict? Is this the album of the year everyone said it was? Certainly not. Does it prove that hipster bands really can last longer than two or three months? Certainly. Although Grandaddy doesn’t break any new ground with its blatantly obvious stance on modern technology (OK Computer, an album that this album was constantly compared to, said far more in a lot less words), they do manage to keep things interesting. The songs are distinctive, the melodies cling to you, and you look really cool taking this up to the counter to buy it. What more could one ask for?