In my review of Mercury Rev's performance of Deserters Songs at the Roundhouse a few months ago, I was initially sceptical of the album's place in the pantheon of modern Americana classics, alongside the likes of the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Grandaddy's Under The Western Freeway. But in truth, when anyone compiles such a list, it's inevitably Grandaddy that gets missed out. That was the story of their career in a nutshell; perenially underloved and under the radar, their eventual dissolution in 2006 nonetheless caused considerable mourning amongst their followers, and an outcry for this band to be acknowldeged by a wider audience.
Their call has, in part, been answered by this coming Monday's release of the deluxe edition of 2000's The Sophtware Slump. Every bit as good as debut Under The Western Freeway, it consolidated the band's knack for odd, yet deceptively simple and strangely affecting indie-rock songwriting, underscored by the sadsack voice of front man and chief creative talent Jason Lytle. On its release, The Sophtware Slump gained, with some justification, comparisons with Radiohead's OK Computer for its similar underlying themes of extraterrestrialism, loneliness, and man's struggles with technology. But in contrast with Thom Yorke's cut-and-paste lyrical vagaries, Lytle's words give us a strong visual image and carry real emotional resonance, no matter how strange the circumstances. Broken Household Appliance National Forest for instance, simultaneously draws anger at man's wastefulness and lack of regard for natural habitat, and yet we are able to draw a warm feeling of satisfaction from the deers, frogs and other woodland critters that contentedly make their home amongst the deserted refridgerators and air condition units. Then there's the poor soul in Miner At The Dial-A-View (what is the Dial-A-View exactly? Some kind of pay-per-view precursor of Google Earth perhaps?) looking at images of his home and longing for his return. It's a fine distillation of the feelings of loneliness and re-kindling of long-distant memories (both in terms of time and physical distance) that the band first touched upon on Under The Western Freeway's Everything Beautiful Is Far Away.
Perhaps the strongest recurring theme within The Sophtware Slump is one of obscelescence. There's the astronaut who touches back down to Earth on He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot to find a planet which has moved on without him (possibly the same character who makes his weary getaway on the album's final song So You'll Aim Toward The Sky). And then there's the sorry story of Jed The Humanoid who, on becoming despondant after his neglect by his creators as they go on to devise more advanced creations, goes off the rails and ends up meeting an early robot grave. Perhaps the album's most stirring moment is Jed's Other Poem, a reprise of the story which unearths a hitherto undiscovered poem,written by the humanoid himself, recording his own downfall. It delivers what is both the album's most humourous and devestating passage ("I try to sing it funny like Beck but it's bringing me down/Lower than ground/Beautiful Ground") before fading into the ether over a rippling piano. Listen to it below and then, if you haven't already, go out and get The Sophtware Slump and give this band some posthumous credit.