The New Radiohead, Direct From Modesto

With their major-label debut, Grandaddy have arrived as the first major new talent of this century.

(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc. or its affiliated companies.)

Editor in Chief Michael Goldberg writes:

It's not news that we are in the midst of the most significant upheaval since the industrial revolution. For those with their heads in the sand, the AOL absorption of that veteran old-school media conglomerate Time Warner, should have made it clear that a new order is here, and that those with their fingers on the pulse of the new technology are fast becoming the new ruling class.

Armed with their wireless Palm Pilots, cell phones and laptops, these high tech warriors are transforming nearly every aspect of our society. Don't laugh. A revolution is at hand, and during the next five years you will see more titans fall, as tech firms and Internet companies absorb them or put them out of business.

Dot commers have become the scapegoats for out-of-it leftists, clueless Bohemian types and those clinging desperately to the past. In San Francisco, one can read the pathetic anti-Net whinings of hired guns in the so-called alternative weeklies. Of course old-school media has a vested interest in fueling dot-com hatred — the last thing print media wants is to be supplanted by Net media.

Revolutions are not calm, business-as-usual affairs. They are bloody. They are disruptive. They yank you out of your stupor. They demand that you make decisions, take risks. Venture into the unknown. And if you don't? God knows where you'll end up when the smoke clears. The picture may not be a pretty one.

Which brings us to Grandaddy's extraordinary major-label debut on V2 Records, The Sophtware Slump, a kind of concept album (wait, it's good!) that examines the dark side of technology even as it appears to embrace a high tech or perhaps post–high tech future very different from our present.

The album begins with what sounds like a highly treated banjo (this itself is so appropriate, the mutation of an ancient instrument by new technology) and singer Jason Lytle giving us the overview:

"Adrift again 2000 man/ You lost your maps/ You lost the plans .../ Welcome back to solid ground my friend ..."

Of course Grandaddy themselves are "2000 men." Equally at home with traditional instruments and new electronics, they combine the two to make their new sounds.

Like the alterna-geek freaks that have headed out to the desert to celebrate Burning Man for years now, Grandaddy aren't afraid of technology. They embrace it, use it. They are of the times, not scared of them.

One of the album's highlights, "Jed the Humanoid" (RealAudio excerpt), tells the story of Jeddy 3, some kind of robot/artificial intelligence that the singer and his friends excitedly put together one day in the kitchen. "Last night something pretty bad happened/ We lost a friend/ All shocked and broken/ Shut down exploded," the song begins.

Jeddy 3, whom they soon were simply referring to as Jed, could experience emotion. At first, the friends were "so proud." Jed solved problems for them. They "learned so much from him." But as time passed, they lost interest in Jed. Eventually it turned to booze. "He fizzled, ... finally he just stopped.'

You can take this song as a cruel joke, a cautionary tale or as portending a future that will be here soon.

Somehow, it seems right that a band from Modesto, Calif. — has there ever been a great band that came from Modesto? — would appear at the dawn of the new century with a fresh perspective on life.

Grandaddy mix tried-and-true pop-rock elements — melody, a great singer in the tradition of everyone from John Lennon and Neil Young to Robert Pollard, Steve Malkmus and Thom Yorke — with electronic textures.

The sounds of machines at work haunt this album, from start to finish. Yet at the same time, the band rocks with a steely fury — catch the end of "Broken Household Appliance National Forest" (RealAudio excerpt).

It is easy to generalize, and it is easy to scapegoat. In the '60s, radicals and hippies blamed "the Man," "the Establishment." Today, those of us trying to remake the world, trying to use technology to make the world better, are lumped in with e-commerce suits. It's so much easier to dismiss whole groups of people than to see each person as a unique individual.

Life is not simple. Life is complicated. Many things are not what they seem. Those that generalize and dismiss do so at their own peril.

Grandaddy's world is a mess of discarded machines, poisoning the environment. "Broken household ... appliance ... national forest ... air conditioners in the woods." Yet at the same time, Grandaddy welcome 2000 man. They hold out hope. I think they, like I, believe that, somehow, all this technology will be our salvation.

"Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)" (RealAudio excerpt) is supposed to be a poem written by Jeddy 3, set to music. At one point Lytle sings, "I try to sing it/ Funny like Beck/ But it's bringing me down."

Sometimes, it's hard to get the joke. And sometimes, the joke's on you. And me.

© 2000 Michael Goldberg — All rights reserved.