If there were any interest in the internal politics of Grandaddy, then Jason Lytle’s newly released solo album, Yours Truly, The Commuter, would provide gossips with plenty to jaw about. Not to imply that Lytle is airing personal grievances about his fellow band members or anything, but it doesn’t take a meddler’s mind to assume that something must have been terribly wrong within Grandaddy if Lytle felt the need to move away from the group to make this album. Obviously, Lytle had no objection to the music the group made as a unit, because if he did, it would be reasonable to assume that Yours Truly, The Commuter, would not sound so completely like a Grandaddy album. So while idle speculation about the personal relationships within Grandaddy might be largely irrelevant, and I do run the risk of sounding like a busybody, it is worth considering how far Lytle has come since his days leading a sorely missed band.
Anyway, band politics aside, more Grandaddy, even with a different name on the cover, is a welcome thing. Yet there is not a synthesizer, acoustic guitar, nor stray noise on Yours Truly, The Commuter without a precursor in the Grandaddy catalogue (Lytle’s album is particularly reminiscent of the languid glide of Sumday). So while it’s easy to appreciate the fact that the leader of a defunct and much beloved band is still offering up his trademark sound, the lack of artistic growth is too overpowering to ignore.
On first listen (and second and third for that matter), there is little to latch onto and little to differentiate one song from the next, but there are gems hiding that enough repeated listens reveal. Make no mistake, these gems sound like Grandaddy as well, but they feature enough melodic charm to compensate for this issue. “Ghost of My Old Dog” manages the neat feat of taking a potentially maudlin premise (which the title all but perfectly explains) and deftly avoiding saccharine pitfalls without resorting to cynicism or knowing winks. What the listener gets is a touching, pretty little song about a (probably deluded) man spending time with his dog’s ghost. It’s a disarmingly personal moment, and while boy-loses-dog is one of the more common tropes in storytelling, Lytle’s clever execution makes the listener forget that they’re listening to a song with a premise straight out of children’s fiction or a Mitch Albom novel.
Mostly, and “Ghost of My Dog” is no exception to this, Lytle is happy to traffic in summery melodies tinged with bitterness and boosted by cosmological synths, as he has always done. Sometimes this formula works in spite of its constant presence on the album (“Brand New Sun”), but more often the songs just bleed into each other, leaving the listener in a semi-narcotic haze.
Lytle has said this is an album that is focused on learning to balance the transition from citizen to artist and back, making Yours Truly, The Commuter a sort of abstract travelogue. Based on the material presented, Lytle’s preferred method of theoretical travel is meandering. Yours Truly, The Commuter gently drifts from beginning to end with all the implied urgency of a hammock. The album’s one burst of energy comes in the form of “It’s the Weekend,” which bears more than a passing resemblance to Grandaddy’s “Summer Here, Kids,” both thematically and instrumentally. Yet even if he’s copying himself, Lytle’s effort to add some liveliness to the album is much appreciated, if only because it temporarily breaks the near-uniformity in tone and arrangement that makes Yours Truly, The Commuter such a lethargic listening experience. Taken individually, there really isn’t a song here that is technically bad, but Lytle’s choice to arrange every song identically saps a little bit of enjoyment out of each track. Ultimately, Yours Truly, The Commuter is the rare album that is less than the sum of its parts.