Suddenly, Death is Boring… so the Fleet Foxes are Death? (A Review of Jason Lytle’s Solo Record)

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I never really listened to Grandaddy and, while we’re being honest here, I would never have listened to Jason Lytle’s solo album if he wasn’t opening for Neko Case this summer. I figured I’d give him a try since I was going to see him live but then that never happened because my band got a last minute gig that caused me to skip the Neko Case show altogether. I regret nothing. Middle Cyclone is still one of the best albums of the year (and  the best album cover, um… ever) and I’ve got this Jason Lytle CD to listen to.

And to mostly enjoy. Yours Truly, the Commuter is pretty good – a “grower”, you might say (I have an anecdote about that word that I’d like to share. If’ I’ve written this elsewhere on this site, just skim over it. Anyway, I knew this tremendous dude in college named Rowan. At a party once, Rowan, fairly drunk, explained how he checked out guys’ packages on the sly and proceeded to deliver a discourse on “showers” and “growers” and so now, whenever someone refers to an album as a grower, I think of penises. Thanks, Rowan). The first thing I noticed is Lytle’s hushed voice – with just the slightest hint of rasp, it comes off sounding somewhere between E from Eels and Paul Simon with maybe a dash of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. That alone should probably be a big clue to you as to whether or not you’ll dig Lytle’s music. Commuter has some really great melodic moments, the best of which is “Yours Truly, the Commuter,” which opens the album. From there, Commuter can get a little slow and a lot precious (“Ghost of My Old Dog” is a little cheesy, but still highly listenable and hey – when my dog dies, god forbid, it’s not that hard to imagine that I’ll still prefer her noncoporeal company to that of most human beings) but it’s unfailingly gorgeous throughout, and that garners it a lot of good will from Yours Truly, the Snarky Reviewer.

Lytle is rumored to be a perfectionist in the studio (so is Axl Rose, but Jason Lytle seems to actually possess lyrical coherence and a facility for composition), and the songs on Yours Truly certainly sound meticulously composed, which may not always be to their benefit. It gives the album a sleepy feel – read my description of Lytle’s voice in the above paragraph; combined with the down-tempo nature of most of the tracks, it’s a wonder Yours Truly is safe to listen to while operating heavy machinery – but its understated beauty and relative brevity pull it out of any pitfalls it may stumble into. And the worst song on the album, “It’s the Weekend” is one of the most uptempo. Why is it the worst, you ask? It’s a throwaway track about how great Saturday is. The lyrics amount to little more than “it’s the weekend” and that’s just not the sort of thing I’m going to let slide. It’s lazy, especially for someone as skilled as Jason Lytle. Although, now that I listen to “Furget It” again, it’s also lyrically lazy but sonically sublime, so there you go. I reserve the right to contradict myself. And you too. Especially you.

Yours Truly is probably a good record for people who dug Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast as much (or almost as much) as I did – it’s no Noble Beast, obviously, but it’s actually quite lovely in its own right. If you’re going to listen to what my oft-cited pal Zac (we music snobs must refer to each other often) would call “Wuss rock”, you shouldn’t be indiscriminate. I know Pitchfork likes your Richard Hawleys and your Jenses Lenkman and guys like that, but they bore the shit out of me. Jason Lytle is – for sure – on the better side of that crowded field of performers, nearer Andrew Bird (who, to me, exists in an entirely separate category of composer-nerdy awesomeness) or M. Ward than to that neo-lounge bullshit that the Pitchfork kids are peddling. Yes, neo-lounge is a genre I just made up, but you probably know what I’m talking about. And another thing – I’m tired of Pitchfork’s boner for Fleet Foxes. I get it – they make pretty harmonies. They also don’t say a goddamn thing. Jason Lytle’s music is just as pretty (sometimes prettier) and he actually wrings more pathos out of his dead dog than Fleet Foxes does out of… whatever they sing about on their whole album (and EP, for all you completists out there). Fleet Foxes is pretty music for tree-dwelling hippies and Jason Lytle is pretty music for the rest of us.  In fact, as I write this, I’m soaking up Yours Truly‘s closer, “Here for Good”, and it definitely blows away everything I saw Fleet Foxes do at Coachella. Lytle sings, “Suddenly, death is just boring/ so I’m here for good,” which is a line I like very much, but he sings it like a guy who knows that he, like all of us, can’t possibly be here for good. Take that as a lesson, Bollocks! readers: life is short, and lots of people can make prettyish music, so choose wisely. Don’t choose Fleet Foxes. Meaning: do choose Jason Lytle.

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