Here’s an invented statistic: when a songwriter sits down to write about California, nine out of ten times, the resulting song will be extremely negative. Again, this is not based on any research, but it sure does seem like most California songs focus on the state’s reputation for housing the most vain, fame-hungry, and vapid contingent of this country. Even if you didn’t know that Admiral Radley was comprised of Grandaddy members/certifiable smartasses Jason Lytle and Aaron Burtch, as well as Earlimart members Aaron Espinoza and Arianna Murray, you could probably sense the sarcasm that is practically dripping from the title of their debut album, I Heart California. And if you get the impression that I’m assuming a lot from very little evidence, then a listen through the titular song will erase any doubt you might have about Lytle’s feeling towards the Golden State. Lytle sings of the way “drugs fall out of diaper bags,” eyes “fake tits in the symphony,” and derisively over-pronounces the state’s name in the chorus. The Beach Boys, this is not.
Naturally, as the album’s title indicates, California plays a large role in Admiral Radley’s universe. It is to I Heart California’s benefit when that role is limited to providing inspiration to the record’s breezy atmospherics. Less enjoyable are the moments when Lytle and Espinoza indulge in splenetic pissing about California. Lytle’s contribution, “Sunburn Kids,” is merely an extended lark, dressed up in a digital-punk package, written for the simple purpose of complaining about being unusually susceptible to sunburn. My Irish skin empathizes, believe me, but it doesn’t make the song any less gratuitous. That being said, “Sunburn Kids” is nowhere near as irritating as Espinoza’s “I’m All Fucked on Beer,” easily the album’s low point. Were the song a minute long or less (the only palatable length it could be), “I’m All Fucked on Beer” would simply be a negligible goof, but reality has it stretched to an interminable four and a half minutes. During the course of those four and a half minutes, the title is repeated, tunelessly, somewhere around thirty times and typically precedes some misanthropic whining.
Yet there are nine other songs on I Heart California, and none of them are nearly as abrasive. In fact, most of them are quite lightheartedly tuneful in the manner we’ve come to expect from Grandaddy and Earlimart. There’s nothing here that ventures too far outside of the comfort zones of anyone involved, but Admiral Radley is clearly meant to be a vehicle for some consequence-free fucking around. The band’s very name comes from a real Craiglist ad for a 747 plane that ends with the instruction to contact Admiral Radley if interested. The band is unserious, in concept and execution. And there’s no reason to protest that fact when the results are as effortlessly winning as “Ghosts of Syllables” or “Lonesome Co.”
Roughly a year ago, in this very publication, I was complaining that former Grandaddy front man Jason Lytle’s solo album, Yours Truly, The Commuter showed little ambition outside of Lytle’s previously established stylistic parameters. I Heart California, though guilty of almost exactly the same thing, is a more enjoyable effort, probably due to the apparently modest aims of the project. Lytle even preemptively addresses any critical handwringing over this project in “G N D N,” the title of which is short for “Goes Nowhere Does Nothing” and is ostensibly about Admiral Radley’s 747. Yet even the least analytical listener will understand Lytle’s meaning when he sings “the critics would say/ the sounds you would make/ were so second-rate/ and your instruments were fake/ well, of course they were fake.” This is not a band attempting to bowl you over. Admiral Radley’s failures and successes are all largely minor by design, and it’s a testament to the talent of the people involved that their version of messing around can yield such pleasant results.