Admiral Radley, I Heart California
A Grandaddy side project existing in that weird world between jubilation and despair
Don't let the trippy, blissful, sunshine-on-wax vibe of "I Heart California," the opening track on Admiral Radley's debut album of the same name, fool you: Jason Lytle is still pretty bummed. The Grandaddy frontman has made a career writing about down-and-out protagonists (some of whom are robots) skulking their way through unfortunate encounters with other humans and the daily indignities of modern life. Of course, despite his world view, that has never stopped him from crafting the types of sing-songy melodies lunatics mumble while the world collapses.
Such is the case on I Heart California, the first album from Lytle's new band that also features fellow Grandaddy member Aaron Burtch as well as Ariana Murray and Aaron Espinoza from fellow southern California mope rockers Earlimart. The album is a buffet of druggy guitar and aching melodies. While the hooks err more on the side of Earlimart's latter day work (they definitely match the strength of the hooks on 2007's overlooked Mentor Tormentor), the genre-bending schizophrenia is pure Lytle. The title track is an Elton John-piano-fueled '70s AM radio relic, while "Sunburn Kids" turns MGMT's freaked-out studio funk on its ear and "Lonesome Co." manifests as a lazy alt-country jam.
Then there's the album's centerpiece, the unfortunately-titled "I'm All Fucked on Beer," which manages to combine industrial keyboards, Stooges-esque gutter punk, '60s garage tuning and sampledelic breaks into a fratty fist-pumper that sounds like a skate punk sing-along at the end of the world. It's hardly emblematic of the sounds on the rest of the album (it's sandwiched between the Garbage-esque "Red Curbs" and a psychedelic space rocker called "Ending of Me"), but it does manage to capture the energy and vitality of the group.
In fact, for a side project that does so much genre-hopping, Admiral Radley's I Heart California is strangely coherent. Perhaps it's the fact that it's lyrically bound together by the simultaneous sunshine and darkness of the band's home state (the title conjures a great image that sums up Lytle's vision of Los Angeles: "Drugs fall out of diaper bags/ As Midwesterners stare"). Regardless, I Heart California manages to exist in that weird world between jubilation and despair — not unlike the moment just before the drugs wear off. Hopefully Lytle considers that a compliment.