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On Blu Wav, Grandaddy downsize while still making room for minor updates

"Blue Wav"

Release date: 16 February 2024
Grandaddy Blue Wav cover
15 February 2024, 10:00 Written by Will Yarbrough

Time hasn't always been kind to Grandaddy. The band broke up in 2006, then reunited a decade later, only to shut down again after their bassist passed away.

But it's not surprising that Grandaddy is still going strong in the digital age. Despite having shared a label and guitarist with Modest Mouse, there's a reason why these pioneers of American indie rock earned more comparisons to Radiohead. Not only did they share a soft spot for alcoholic robots. They also jockeyed for position on the UK Top 40.

While teased as something of a grand finale, the new Grandaddy album functions more like a soft reboot. Jason Lytle still records at home in Modesto, California, where the band first formed after a gnarly knee injury derailed his skateboarding career. But this time around, the source material comes from further off the beaten path. Lytle was listening to Patti Page, during one of his long drives through the Nevadan desert, when he was struck by the idea to combine bluegrass with new wave. Hence, Blu Wav.

Now, cosmic country is far from a new subgenre. Heck, it's not even a foreign concept to Grandaddy. Whether under the western freeway or putting a miner on the moon, this band has always kept their head firmly above the clouds. "Yeehaw Ai in the Year 2025" dances through a field recording of yipping coyotes. Found sounds from a weekend excursion to Guitar World mill around "Watercooler", which waves buh-bye to life on the cube farm.

If anything, Blu Wav sticks to that framework a little too rigidly. Don't get me wrong; there's a lot to like here. "Ducky, Boris and Dart" aren't long for this world, but their memory lives on thanks to the song's chipper melody. It's just that a good chunk of the tracklist unfolds along a steady procession of waltzes. They're all gorgeous, too, smooth and shiny as a commemorative dinner plate. The spacey interludes will keep you on your toes, but anyone who's looking for a hoedown might get bored in a hurry.

That said, Blu Wav updates Grandaddy's core sound without overwriting the quirks in their circuitry. "Cabin In My Mind" drifts with the familiar ease of another retreat to the crystal lake, wisped along by pedal steel that bends like the tail of a comet. Would recalling some proto-grungy riffs from the band's heyday kill the album's mellow? Absolutely not. But its placid nature makes the cracks in Lytle's psyche that much easier to spot.

It's tempting to view Blu Wav as a solo album. The addition of pedal steel was outsourced to an industry pro in Max Silver, but that this is more of a solitary affair actually keeps with how Grandaddy conducts business. Even when they were opening for Coldplay, Lytle was happier when left alone to his own studio devices. "East Yosemite" finds him going completely off the grid. "Glad to rest where I can't text or accept any calls", he sighs in relief, encased by the glassy echo of his trusted wooden piano.

Lytle wrote the last Grandaddy album in the wake of his divorce. Blu Wav seems to trickle out from the same wounded headspace, though that doesn't mean he's lost his sense of humour. "Jukebox App" tells the story of a lonely guy who gets back at an ex by turning her night out into his own curated pity party. But what's really admirable about this album is the lack of bitterness. While not exactly ready to let go, Lytle doesn't hold any grudges, either. Instead, he's resigned to the sways of the universe, even if he's the one stuck in a less-than-stellar position.

"You're going to be fine", he assures with a heartfelt twang, "And I'm going to hell". Mandolins pluck like the world's smallest violin before a soft explosion of synths whooshes him out into deep space.

There is an air of finality to Blu Wav. "End credits roll over it all". You can practically see the curtain lowering, the way Lytle's ghostly falsetto disappears behind a milky, synthetic neon glow. And then – almost as if by accident, the drums kick in, chugging along like a decommissioned satellite. Though relatively subdued, "Nothin' to Lose" still counts as the lone climax on an album full of subtle flourishes. No wonder Lytle considered leaving it off. After all, he's already hinting at another album.

Time will tell where Blu Wav ranks against the band's decades-long discography, though I can already see it growing into their Sea Change, a quiet favourite among dedicated fans. But one thing is already clear; they might've slowed down, but Grandaddy isn't going out to pasture quite yet.

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