Yours Truly, The Commuter
Listeners have come to expect a weird social landscape when they enter Jason Lytle’s lyrical world. The late 1990s albums Lytle released with Grandaddy recreate social spaces similar to those we inhabit: the kitchen table of an American home, the resplendent greenery of a national forest, the fluorescent flicker of a factory floor. But then, one by one, inorganic life forms populate those spaces. On Grandaddy’s spacey millennial release, The Sophtware Slump—the perfect listen for those feeling nostalgic for the pre-Y2K jitters—a humanoid is given life on an inventor’s kitchen table. Later, refrigerators and microwave-ovens share the forest with deer and frogs. The cast of characters in Grandaddy’s 2003 release, the pan-Flaming Lips office-park inspired Sumday is no less odd. A damaged computer sings its tale of woe from the factory floor as office workers on a picnic realize they cannot function outside a corporate setting. These tales of mock catastrophe and faux-technological apocalypse reveal Lytle’s ironic perspective on modern humans: humans feel far too little while their machines feel far too much. Three years later, in the course of releasing of Just Like the Fambly Cat, Grandaddy split up—a result of limited popular support in spite of wide-spread critical acclaim. In the process, Lytle re-located from Modesto, California, an agricultural community bordering the Silicon Valley, to the more remote Bozeman, Montana, where he spent three years writing and releasing his solo debut, Yours Truly, The Commuter.
Yours Truly, The Commuter from Yours Truly, The Commuter by Jason Lytle is used with permission.
Yours Truly sounds strikingly familiar to Grandaddy albums. The arrangement of synths, strings, and his familiar breathy vocals are all in place. And yet, strangely, it is not. Not even close. Instead of the normative distorted vocals and chords that characterize his previous work, simple guitar melodies and Lytle’s haunted voice act as the album’s substantive arrangements, with synths and strings added as a compliment. In addition, Yours Truly is removed in time, cultural experience, and geographical space from the Silicon Valley inspired, robotic machinations of The Sophtware Slump and Sumday, creating space for a far more personal album. The tracks listen like a palimpsest of Lytle’s accumulated self-knowledge: childhood photos and childhood loneliness, regrets for lives not lived (his own and others), and an imagined and better future self. This is not a tell-all, confessional album for Lytle; its characters remain ambiguous, like a person approaching through the fog on a beach—discernible yet distant. The glimpses that we see, however, refresh and delight, particularly after the sometimes ironic, sometimes overwrought, aloofness of previous Granddaddy albums.
Lytle has not lost his darkened lyrical sensibilities, as on the tender "Ghost of My Old Dog" (a song about communicating with buried pets and the troubling relational consequences that result), or the mock-prophetic “Birds Encouraged Him,” (a song about birds who encourage a depressed child "on life to held.") The emotional characters of past Granddaddy albums—robots, space-miners, and machines—have been transformed into the more personal, yet still not human parade of animals. On the album’s title track, Lytle pronounces, “Last thing I heard I was left for dead / ... / Well I could give two shits about what they said.” The track's chorus repeats, "I may be limping, but I'm coming home." In spite of the brash youthfulness in the song’s first lines, Lytle chooses to celebrate return and recovery rather than brooding. Listen to the exuberance of his proclamation: "So I'm stoked I'm back, after where I've been." He plinks out the opening notes on a toy piano that sounds borrowed—perhaps from his childhood bedroom, or the music room at a Bozeman elementary school—then adds a more mature bass (surely his own).
Jason Lytle’s nearly patented theme of the office worker at his desk is here too, for those feeling nostalgic. At the album's halfway point, Lytle bursts forth on the celebratory and anthemic track “It’s the Weekend.” He triumphantly proclaims: “Today is the day is the weekend / It’s here Saturday, it’s the weekend,” as if the liberation from the nine-to-five toil is no longer guaranteed. Roll your windows down; turn the volume up. The progression of the final two tracks of Yours Truly, humbled and ethereal, inverts the brash youthfulness of its opening and is the album’s most rewarding moment. Opening with the tranquil magnificence of “Flying Through Canyons,” Lytle’s voice slowly ascends upward, rising like the birds on a draft whose course he sings, before giving way to the reverent final track. On “Here for Good,” Lytle celebrates the themes he has introduced throughout the album: unanswered questions that remain without answer, youth and its passing into age, and life and its unalterable relationship to death. There is a mature sadness on this track, and the album has careful finishes that a younger, more impulsive musician would have brushed over. “For good” he concludes, elongating his vowels as the underlying string arrangement carries them outward.
On Yours Truly, The Commuter, Lytle echoes his old lessons with the slowly acquired wisdom of passing time (he was thirty-nine at the time of its release). The dim fluorescence of an office park still pales in the light of a mid-day, mid-summer sun. Friday at 5 PM may still be the most bearable moment of the work-week for factory and office workers, especially if there will still be a job to return to the following Monday. And the fragments of Lytle that we see, or imagine we see as the fog rolls in are of all of us: time passes and we age with it; loved friends and beloved pets die and we mourn them; the line of a bird’s flight catches our eye and it transcends us. “For good” he sings for us all, this earth, our island home.