Essential New Music: Grandaddy’s “Under The Western Freeway 20th Anniversary Edition”

Jason Lytle’s debut album (reissued here exclusively on vinyl to celebrate its 20th anniversary) gets overshadowed in the wake of not just Radiohead but his own band’s follow-up, 2000’s The Sophtware Slump, as one of indie rock’s earliest brushes with grandiosity and technology. (Both Under The Western Freeway and Slump had the misfortune of appearing the same year as OK Computer and Kid A, respectively.) But it’s here that he first imagined a world where standard Neil Young folk rock collided jaggedly and colorfully with distorted electronic textures and not-quite-human lyrics to match; Freeway’s opening lines are “Hello, good morning, sir/The results are back/Now it’s time for you to pack your things and go.” Despite all his robotic obsessions, Lytle has always been too friendly to be dystopic, even though Freeway’s best-known song, malfunctioning-Casio waltz “A.M. 180,” prominently scored a scene from 28 Days Later. But the album has winning fuzz to spare on the driving “Summer Here Kids” and boasts one of the earliest known utterances of the phrase “Sorry, not sorry”—the last line on the album. Maybe Lytle really did see the future.

—Dan Weiss