Grandaddy – Last Place

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Oliver Rose talks comebacks.

In my experience, it’s rare for a band to come back after an extended hiatus and achieve former glories. They might do well for themselves (Johnny Cash’s American Recordings; Morrissey’s You Are the Quarry) and sometimes, they’ll even invent something new and exciting to exist outside of a pre-established legacy (Bowie’s The Next Day and ★) – but all too often, it can be disastrous. My personal favourite failed-comeback model is that of Pixies, whose Indie Cindy was met with utter despair after a legendary, 23 year wait. I mean, they were particularly unfortunate (with both Surfer Rosa and Doolittle in your back catalogue, you’re going to have to offer something pretty damn special to get anyone excited about you again), but even still…

Grandaddy re-emerges on Last Place after 11 years away and, amazingly, they sound as zanily lo-fi as before – maybe even better. One thing’s for sure – this record is their most consistent yet. The band’s defining moment was the 2000 album, The Sophtware Slump. This schizoid record was paranoid about everything, from (then) contemporary issues like computers and the Internet, to more traditional sources of gut-wrenching worry – unrequited love and escapist leanings. To compliment these angsty sentiments, a maelstrom of malfunctioning electronics, bandy acoustic guitars, and Neil Young-esque whimpering – oh, and of course, lo-fi production, but not the kind that sounds deliberate… no, Granddady’s thing has always been to sound broken.

Last Place employs a similar scheme, utilising crystal clear production with gorgeous fizzling breaks in it; a gold-disc sprinkled with pretty, aesthetic flak (the peaking, grit edge on Evermore’s synthesisers; the mashed vocals on Jed The 4th). In places these effects are reminiscent of Bon Iver’s 22 a Million (like the opening of Way We Won’t), but generally, the tasteful deployment of this distortion makes for a far more cohesive listening experience than on that record (which is fair enough – the intentions are, after all, very different). Just like that record however, Last Place succeeds for its aural quirks; because of the way it messes with your musical anticipations, and not in spite of them. Granddady always did have a knack for this – searing, cheap-ass Casio keyboards under lush guitar arrangements; vocoder warble when it seemed least necessary…

These songs are really well built – robust, melodic compositions with an executive tonality that, for me anyway, borders on analogue-synth porn. It’s fuzzy like Weezer, dense like Ty Segall, and yet as light as the Beatles filler-tracks that inspired it, and the new wave music it’s angular keyboards break wonkily away from. In typical fashion, there’s something quite sad going on here too – long-standing Grandaddy character Jed the Humanoid returns (in a form) and, just as ever, he’s still really quite sad about being not-quite human. Not dissimilarly, there’s an overarching concession to the concept of the last place trophy – from the obvious artwork, to the underdog sentiments of songs like the amazingly catchy I Don’t Wanna Live Here Anymore.

If you’re not familiar with the band, try ‘em out – come to this last. I say that because whilst It feels like they’re ageing gracefully and Grandaddy has proved itself as an outfit still capable of writing good anti-pop, there’s a maturity at play and an experienced flavour on this comeback,  which is, to my ears anyway, best served as the dessert to a more youthfully energised set of not dissimilar concerns…

Picks: Evermore, Way We Wont, Jed The 4th
Rating: 4/5