Jason Lytle Yours Truly, The Commuter

[ANTI-; 2009]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: computer-rock, dream-pop
Others: Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, Grandaddy

Jason Lytle has never seemed like the happiest dude. His interviews following the dissolution of Grandaddy, the Modesto band that he long fronted, spoke to a terminal dourness, a deep-seated depression that has always served as the foundation for even his cheeriest-sounding music. Life probably isn't going so easily when you’re happier singing about dead robots than you are about yourself — not to make generalizations or anything. But by the time Grandaddy released their final album, the beautiful (though inert) Just Like The Fambly Cat, Lytle hardly seemed to have lost all sense of joy. Three years since its release, the album serves as a de facto concept album about being in a band from California that’s about to break up. It was an unsettling moment, hearing a moderately successful band struggling to admit that life just wasn’t working out the way it was supposed to.

Yours Truly, The Commuter, Jason Lytle’s solo debut picks up where Fambly Cat left off. Commuter is a moody, defensive shrug of an album that, despite its depressive tone, feels oddly empowering. Any person who opens a record with the words “Last thing I heard I’d been left for dead/ I could give two shits about what they said/ I may be limping but I’m coming home” deserves credit for blunt honesty. That opening track (which provides the record’s title) sets the album’s tone marvelously; buoyed by synths, the song rises above the depression, rather than sinking into it. Like its title track, Yours Truly, The Commuter is sad but sprightly.

Although Commuter is nearly musically indistinguishable from a Grandaddy record, it feels comforting to have Lytle back, to hear him working through his issues with new music. While his lyrics are as spotty as ever, they remain candid, specific, and unforced. Lytle isn’t breaking any new thematic ground here, but he sounds happier — or, at least, less weighed down — and it makes for a more cohesive, more comfortable experience than the latter Grandaddy albums. As closely as he hews to the old style, Lytle’s compositions are more austere than ever; the piano interludes are statelier, the synths employed with more economy, building these simple folk songs into subtle and intricate structures.

Lytle hasn’t made an easy album by any means; Yours Truly, The Commuter is still heartbreakingly sad at times. “Brand New Sun” begins with a sliver of CCR-ish guitar before expanding into the usual buzzy kind of downer-pop with which Lytle is dependably good. The slower, more contemplative songs like “I Am Lost (And The Moment Cannot Last)” and “Fürget It” are obviously the product of someone who is still struggling to find reasons to be happy. But at least Lytle appears to be trying this time around. Were he not a notoriously hyper-sensitive individual, it would be tempting to accuse Lytle of wallowing in his sadness; and if his music weren’t so rewarding, it would be justifiable to criticize him for this. If Just Like The Fambly Cat was about a trapped man needing to escape, then Yours Truly, The Commuter is telling the story of a man finding his footing (if not his way back home).

1. Yours Truly, the Commuter
2. Brand New Sun
3. Ghost of My Old Dog
4. I Am Lost (And the Moment Cannot Last)
5. Birds Encouraged Him
6. It's the Weekend
7. Fürget It
8. This Song Is the Mute Button
9. Rollin' Home Alone
10. You're Too Gone
11. Flying Thru Canyons
12. Here for Good

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