Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (Reissue)

September 12, 2011 by  

In 2000, Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump was hailed one of the best albums of the decade. 11 years on, the band celebrates the success of their strongest record with a re-issue.

Titled for a conflicted digital generation and the fabled difficult follow-up, their second album was a triumphant improvement. With renewed aplomb the Californian musical astronauts combined Jason Lytle’s moon-gazing vocals and feather-light melodies to express sympathy for misunderstood technology. Regarded by some as a concept album, Sophtware Slump is said even to count iconic deviator David Bowie amongst its admirers.

Fitting true concept format, the album opens with a track as multi-layered as it is lengthy. At almost nine minutes, ‘He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot’ whimpers with the desperation of failed exploration. What begins with a fistful of gloomy chords eventually ascends into stubborn empowerment that rises with the strings. And then, as a hopeful spark gives way to the single possible route – to simply continue – expectations for the album that follows heighten.

Grandaddy’s finest attribute, as heard in the opener, is their ability to work on dual levels – both lo-fi and frantic. ‘Chartsengrafs’, which with synth and vocals that sound shrouded in bubble-wrap begins innocently enough, delivers crashing surprises after 30 seconds. Both the deceivingly dreamy ‘Broken Household Appliance National Forrest’, and ‘Miner At The Dial-A-View’, which sunggles, uninvited, into your eardrums, operate in a similar manner.

Consistently an album happy to keep listeners tottering on their toes, tracks like ‘Hewlett’s Daughter’ and the delightful ‘Crystal Lake’ threaten to spill into noisy disaster but slip instead to delicate whimsy. Equally satisfying is the worryingly disheartening ‘E. Kenievel Interlude (The Perils Of Keeping It Real)’, which plays like something between a particularly murky Nirvana B-side and a mid-eighties funeral home theme tune. Sophtware Slump was not only their finest work, but their most impressive display of range.

The attached bonus disc, which features previously unreleased material, is a succulent treat for the devoted fan. Of the four album alternative versions, (‘He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot’, ‘Chartsengrafs’ and ‘Hewlett’s Daughter’), ‘Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)’ is the clear standout. With a solo acoustic shimmy that appears to nod gracefully to their early 2000s support on Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 tour, it serves as a reminder of the beauty of an utterly nude track, stripped of its jingles and blips. From separate release ‘Crystal Lake’ comes the perfectly stitched ‘Moe Bandy Mountaineers’ and technological takeover ‘Our Dying Brains’. Finally, forlorn piano ballad ‘I Rode My Bike To My Stepsister’s Wedding’ is a further highlight.

With their final album five years behind us, it might be, sadly enough, easy to forget the full extent of Grandaddy’s skill. Yet The Sophtware Slump remains a fascinating album, and the chance to relive its sorrowful beauty should not be missed.

[rating:5]


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