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When songwriter Jason Lytle made it clear that he was leaving California’s central valley for a new home in Montana, a friend wondered if Lytle’s music would start sounding “all rustic and alt-country-ish.” This friend was relieved to discover that the exposure to buttes and waterfalls did not cause Lytle to turn off his analog synths. Part of that distinct Grandaddy sound–and it was very much theirs, as you couldn’t mistake their texture for that of any other artist–was a retro-futurist contrast of chilly, ‘70s-soundtrack keyboards and warm, welcoming melodies. It was an oil-smudged, battery-powered, melancholic take on the 21st century, where the replacement parts don’t always fit and the screens blinker out from time to time. It’s the jury-rigged spaceship Sam Rockwell’s character helmed in “Moon,” with its tile flooring coated in layers of unmopped grease.
Lytle’s new album, “Dept. of Disappearance” (Anti-), projects these half-working technologies and gentle melodies onto a new frontier: the sheer rock face of the mountain. The album is an almost-but-not-really concept record that nods to the struggle of the climber (“Matterhorn,” “Last Problem of the Alps”) starving in the shadow of the mountaintop. Lytle’s very singable melodies work best when the tempos crawl, and here, the songs are slower and prettier than ever. References to death appear in nearly every song here, but the chords are so epic that the album plays much more as lovely than lonely, more majestic than morose. “Dept. of Disappearance” is a sublime and beautiful piece of work.
The live versions of his songs are considerably different from the fully produced album settings–they’re just as moving, but far more stripped back. He performed a recent “NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert” that is now up on YouTube, and it’s a good example of how well these songs work on acoustic guitar and synth. It’s also a testament to the durable construction of Lytle’s songs. The floor might be scuffed up, but the framework of the ship is very, very solid. KEVIN SEAL
Jenny-O used to play cello with the New York All-State Orchestra, but there are no low strings on her EP, “Home.” It’s five songs of charming, shambling psych pop that call to mind Harry Nilsson’s music-hall shuffles. Sitar, horns, and Wurlitzer pop up for a few bars on the single, “Well OK Honey,” but mostly “Home” is her acoustic guitar, piano, and light, bell-toned voice. From the hand-crocheted cover to the thin blanket of tape hiss, “Home” is true to its title, and Jenny-O’s smart writing makes even more ambitious, multi-part songs like “I Do I Do” feel intimate and natural. KEVIN SEAL
Anyone who ever heard the Mumlers knows that Will Sprott possesses one barn-burner of a voice–the kind of supple baritone that sounds effortless going from a falsetto to a soulful slide. It’s the kind of voice that made stars out of the legendary R&B crooners in the ‘50s, and as a writer, Sprott sets his pipes in their most natural habitat: sizzling 12/8 soul ballads that sound as if they were pressed onto 45s and plunked down onto a jukebox platter. His live version of “A Dog Will Love You When Nobody Else Will” is a stunner. KEVIN SEAL
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