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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla
V2 Records

Rating: 7.5/10 ?

September 28, 2005
The almighty dollar is king in Jason Lytle's hometown of Modesto, Calif., a place where strip malls stretch as far as the eye can see and air quality is a joke. That's progress for you. As a longtime resident, Grandaddy's Lytle wants no part of it. In fact, as he sits at a piano slowly plunking down the sad, heavy chords of "Fuck the Valley Fudge," Lytle concocts a scheme to bring the town's commercial interests their knees.

"We'll plot out a plan to take down the man/we'll start with that new future superstore and steal all their decorative rocks and we'll fight all their rent-a-cops," he sings in his high, wavering voice. But when it comes to the chorus, where he says, "Fuck the Valley Fudge," there's not a trace of defiance or outrage in his breathy croon, only resignation.

Trying to get a handle on Lytle's state of mind is tricky. On Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla, an EP conceived as a precursor to the next Grandaddy full-length due in early 2006, Lytle is alternately angry and submissive. One minute he's a feisty and independent, shredding his vocal chords and screaming he's not going to take any shit from anyone - like in the radiant pop sunbeam "Florida" - and five songs earlier, in the hyperactive first single, "Pull The Curtains," Lytle admits defeat. As guitars and synthesizers race around him, he sings, "Pull the curtains on the night/sometimes it isn't worth the fight." What would Todd Zilla say? He'd say Lytle is being a pussy, that's what he'd say.

Not so fast, Mr. Zilla. You might drive a monster truck and have a personalized license plate that proudly proclaims that you are, indeed, Todd Zilla, but Lytle is made of tougher stuff than that. That's why he adds this caveat: "And sometimes you gotta say this is going to be the day" - as in this is going to be the day he takes a flamethrower to this place.

EPs are interesting. They rarely allow for any thematic thread to emerge; a lot of the time, the artist is simply cleaning house, packing his songs into a garbage bag and taking them to the Goodwill of records. That's essentially what Lytle is doing here, as he freely admits. There are songs here that are eight years old. Still, Lytle, who made the album mostly on his own, is able to explore in detail and with strong emotions the disintegration of community that comes with over commercialization and gentrification. As suburban sprawl grows, downtown areas lose their character and become economic ghettos; Lytle laments this trend, but outside of firebombing the local mall or laying down in front of bulldozers, there's not much he can do about it except write songs and hope the right people hear them.

That's not likely to happen. However, we of a certain musical disposition can and will hear them, and they are worth your time. Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla marks a return to the days of Sophtware Slump and Under The Western Freeway: Synthesizers are front and center and Lytle drowns the seven songs of this EP in them - that is, except for the beautifully fragile "Fuck the Valley Fudge."

A mixed bag of bouncy, speed-fueled pop songs and spacey neo-psychedelia flooded with waves of synthesizer - cropping up in the successive tracks "At My Post," "A Valley Son (Sparing)" and "Cinderland", Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla is like Sumday in that it's more song-oriented than earlier Grandaddy efforts, yet there's enough spacey atmosphere to satisfy those who take delight in Sophtware Slump's languorous Milky Way wanderings and slight acoustic textures.

Though a bit heavy-handed lyrically and too dependent on monotonous mood-altering synth-scapes, Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla showcases Lytle's improving song craft, something which I honestly thought Sophtware Slump lacked. In "Pull The Curtains," you hear a computer-generated version of Pet Sounds pop, while in the dramatic, synth-washed closer "Goodbye?," Grandaddy shines on like that crazy diamond Pink Floyd always went on and on about. Moving and mind-blowing, Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla sets the stage for a new Grandaddy album, one that's mindful of the need for structure and hooks while still adept at making grand, sweeping musical gestures that seem completely natural and unforced. Now if only Lytle could find a nice place to settle down.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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