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Grandaddy - Sumday

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Artist: Grandaddy

Album: Sumday

Label: V2

Review date: Jul. 24, 2003

It's the Sequence, Not the Sum

The Sophtware Slump was a glorious point in Grandaddy's history. While their debut Under the Western Freeway and its accompanying smattering of EPs showed great promise, Slump was a triumph because it saw their best attributes – charmingly idiosyncratic lyrics and a finely tuned ear for the overlap of humanity and technology – brought to the fore, while their tendency to either wander into irretrievable territory or repeat until stagnation were toned down. The resulting record was a fascinating, but disciplined flow of songs and interludes tied together by themes like alienation and mass-mechanization, and one of the first excellent albums of the new century.

Three years later, Sumday is, in effect, another album of the same tone and magnitude as Slump, but its ambition and spontaneity come up lacking, as though it was the revelation of the perfect proportions that lent the latter its spark of ingenuity. The subject matter of this album is by and large sadder and more humanized, while its execution is somehow more content, but for the most part the songs remains the same. So, whether the novelty has become moot or the approach too well-rehearsed, there's an unsettling feeling of familiarity throughout Sumday, one that becomes all the more distracting considering that each of its twelve songs are every bit as worthwhile as those on its predecessor. The culprit is not the comfortable formula of benign chugging guitars and droning synths, nor is it the band's harped-on stance in the man-versus-machine battle; I move that this album's problem is a very, very shoddy sequence.

Take, for example, the first handful of songs. At least. "Now It's On," as good a rocker as any on Slump, sounds exactly like "The Go in the Go-For-It" (I can't really tell them apart, even now that I feel like I've mastered most of the album's subtle differences), the two being separated by only "I'm On Standby," which is more or less the same song in more or less the same key, except a little slower, and which also has the same makeup as "Lost on Yer Merry Way." So it goes on for about half of the album, and only by the morose clunker "Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World" does any change become apparent without studied listening. Sumday’s second half is only uniform in its variety, but it hardly seems worth wading through a half hour of what feels like the same thing.

The bastard of it all is that those 30 minutes are worth it, not only to get to such devilishly creative tracks as "Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake" and "OK With My Decay," but for the cloned ones as well. Grandaddy's songs have never been the most statistically diverse set, but it hasn't seemed objectionable until now, when they don't seem to be making any effort to hide the fact. Without any interludes about alcoholic robots or the poems they write, Sumday would appear to require a greater patience than ever before, but all it really needs is a different context: once the early songs gain enough familiarity (it does happen), they manage to sound OK, and even cast a better light on the already-pristine finale. The solution, then, is to test the waters with the first song or two and, if your curiosity is encouraged, make use of the shuffle function on the CD player. Regardless of its implications in the fight against technology, you'll probably want to steer clear of the vinyl this time.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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