13 Jul 2015

CULT CLASSIC ALBUMS #3 - Grandaddy - Sophtware Slump


The dawn of the 21st century saw a bit of a drastic change in music, sorta. It's not as though everything was one way in 1999, and then it changed overnight, BUT, the first year of the new millennium saw some of the most acclaimed bands in the UK bringing out albums with an uncertain, dystopian, and even scary sound; I'm talking about Broadcast's The noise made by people and Radiohead's Kid A, which would definitely both make it to my Top 5 British albums of the noughties.

But whilst this was all going on, geeky Californian band Grandaddy were exploring a kind of space age melancholia in their own sorta way. Their debut came out in 1997, and it was pretty good; some of the songs sounded like they could have been early demos for the Horrors' Sea Within A Sea, with their escalating synthesisers, but ultimately, it was kinda ham-fisted in trying to evoke emotion. It was just a bit overly insular, and I guess it was just kinda your average near-the-middle-of-the-road indie stuff. Grandaddy were (despite their appearances) ultimately a really twee, little, indie band, and, well, despite all their huge ambitions, when trying to describe them to people all I can think is 'can you imagine Pavement in space'?

But don't let the lack of emotion evoking that covers the Under the Western Freeway album put you off the Sophtware Slump. It targets that, and blows any preconceptions out the water with it's 9 minute opener He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot, which is quite simply one of the most evocative things I've ever heard. It sounds like a modern day Space Oddity, and explores various states of overpowering sadness, before it ends with a euphoric punch. It's hard to stop listening for it's whole duration, because it draws you into a deep sadness with the band, and drags you up through the stratosphere to euphoria with them too. It's about isolating yourself intentionally from a manner of things, and whether you take the metaphor of the pilot literally or figuratively, it's beautifully detached from reality.

But it's not just the sprawling opener that makes this amazing - sure, that's amazing - but there are some amazing little pop songs on this too. I mean, ...He's The Pilot was hit in the UK (#71), BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT. Hewlett's Daughter is a really bouncy pop song, which gives the post-apocalyptic themes a bit of a breather as the band touch brightly on the breezy themes of not wanting to break up with someone because you like their dad. It's space-Pavement at their most Pavement.

Then, songs like Jed's Other Poem and The Crystal Lake are fucking perfect pop nuggets that see Grandaddy raise their eyebrows at modern technology, in the same way that the vast majority of the band's output does. The Crystal Lake is generally regarded as one of the band's masterpieces, and it alone sums the concept of Slump up nicely; the way I read it, the narrator thinks that he should have never left country life for somewhere where 'the trees are fake', and by extension we as a race shouldn't have left that whole way of life behind. And as cliche as it sounds to a modern audience, their constant cynicism towards modern technology is kind of admirable, and the lyrical themes are still touchingly relevant because I guess a lot of people feel they wanna get away from technology but can't.

But ultimately, although it's not what you'd immediately think is a classic, that's certainly what it is. It's aged so well, and although some of the synth parts sound a bit dated, they just add to the album's endearing feel. It's still something that feels completely transcendent, and it's lyrical themes are admirable at worst. It's strange that so few people my age are into this band, because they deserve to be recognised with the great indie bands of that time; up there with The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and Luna.

Read our other Cult Classics pieces
#1. Sparklehorse - Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot
#2. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place

(WRITTEN BY CALUM CASHIN)