Released in 2003, “Sumday” was Grandaddy’s third full-length album. At times sweet and self-effacing, the album was an easy-to-overlook gem: music that goes down this effortlessly can’t really be worthy of serious attention, can it? The answer – a resounding “yes” – lies in Jason Lytle’s inventive songwriting and the band’s creativity and confidence in performing the material.
Grandaddy’s story isn’t very unlike many other bands that started out in the early ‘90s in California. A professional skateboarder until he suffered an injury, Lytle formed a trio with drummer Aaron Burtch and bassist Kevin Garcia, playing punk and thrash music. They released their music on cassette and then, after keyboard player Tim Dryden joined, issued an EP on a small label. The year 1997 saw the release of “Under the Western Freeway,” their full-length debut. Though it was well received, it tended to bring to mind other recording artists including Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, the Pixies and Neil Young – not a bad class for a new group. A few of its tracks tilted toward experimental and Lytle’s voice was undeniably appealing, even as it wandered from pitch. The debut suggested Grandaddy might grow – and they did on their 1999 EP “Signal to Snow Ratio” and the full length “The Sophtware Slump,” issued a year later.
But “Sumday” was a big leap ahead: recorded in Lytle’s home studio, it presented a band that had shaken off its early influences to assert its independence. Tilting toward power pop, the songs are tighter, though still informed by a taste for experimentation, albeit now controlled. Lytle’s charming voice is front and center, and the band works in service of the melodies. Thus, the album’s 12 tracks seem a part of a coherent whole, from the chugging opening “Now It’s On” to “The Final Push to the Sum,” a woozy ballad that brings the disc to its close.
The foundation of “Sumday” was, for the most part, an acoustic guitar or piano supported by simple percussion and bass. But “Lost On Yer Merry Way” profits from strings and a slide guitar. “Stray Dog And The Chocolate Shake” bounced along with a cheesy keyboard popping up between verses. In “The Go In The Go For It,” an extended piano outro was both giddy and melancholy, giving the song a bittersweet aftertaste. Grandaddy muscled up a bit for “El Caminos In The West,” but chiming keys and Lytle’s delivery hold back the roar. “Yeah Is What We Had” was jolted by power guitar chords, but once again strings were the perfect accompaniment for Lytle’s whisper-like approach, as they were in “O.K. With My Decay.” Beautiful vocal harmonies rose and floated away in the piano ballad “Saddest Vacant Lot In The World,” and “The Warming Sun” evolved with understated grandeur.
As the song titles suggest, Lytle wrote words that reflected his distinctive, somewhat offbeat observations. In “The Group That Couldn’t Say,” he told how the quest for success can blind the beauty and satisfaction in daily life: “Becky wondered why she never noticed dragonflies/Her drag-and-click never yielded anything as perfect as a dragonfly” and “The sprinklers that come on at 3 a.m. sound like crowds of people asking ‘Are you happy what you doing?’” In a few phrases, “Saddest Vacant Lot In The World” painted a portrait of a heartbroken woman alone in her kitchen; meanwhile, the man she misses is passed-out drunk in a Datsun as if cowering from the thought that he’ll miss her too. Yearning informed “Yeah Is What We Had” as a lonely man lost to regret asked: “In this life will I see you again?” Thus, almost unnoticed, at least on first exposure, Lytle’s lyrics gave the album additional gravitas that encouraged, in its own quiet way, repeated investigation. In interviews, Lytle said his lyrics were drawn from autobiography, which likely meant the great words and music rose from a period of discontent.
“Sumday” boosted Grandaddy’s career, but it turned out that Lytle was indeed unhappy with the life of a rock musician. He and drummer Burtch recorded the final Grandaddy album, “Just Like the Fambly Cat,” and by the time it was released in 2006, the band was no more. In 2012, they reunited to play a series of shows. Lytle has said he’d like to make another Grandaddy album, but thus far no new music by the band has emerged, though in 2014, they joined Band of Horses for “Hang An Ornament,” a single that has more than a few of the qualities of “Sumday,” an album that has retained its charm though its subtle sophistication and efficient delivery.