Photo: Chugrad McAndrews / Force Field PR

Grandaddy Overlay the Past on ‘Sumday: Excess Baggage’

Grandaddy’s Sumday: Excess Baggage is worthwhile for its temporality, arriving two decades removed from Sumday and being all the more affecting as a result.

Sumday: Excess Baggage
25 August 2023

There have been threads of finality and obsolescence throughout Grandaddy‘s lifespan. These exist in bandleader Jason Lytle‘s lyrics; see, for example, the failure and compulsory departure of the central character in “Nonphenomenal Lineage”, the first track of the band’s 1997 breakthrough studio album Under the Western Freeway. Beyond the words sung to the characters within the songs and the listeners without, there are the keyboards and studio gear Lytle has assembled and kept alive, sometimes in defiance of their vintage. To wonder when these objects will give out haunts both the songs’ production and their narrative/poetic substance.

Further, taking a broader view, past the text and the sound, there was a growing instability in Grandaddy as a group or as a career. The release of the pre-hiatus album Just Like the Fambly Cat in 2006, capping a decade of expanding visibility and critical acclaim, coincided with themes of leaving town, breaking up, and reflecting on the ends of things. Perhaps no Grandaddy song of this period is more direct or emotionally engaging around these themes than “Goodbye”, the final track of the EP Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla (2005), whose songs complement Just Like the Fambly Cat.

Attentive Grandaddy listeners reading this write-up will have noticed that there has thus far been no mention of the arguable highlights of the group’s output, which are The Sophtware Slump (2000) and Sumday (2003), essential and decade-reflecting rock albums of the aughts. It is a testament to Grandaddy’s stylistic and thematic unity that each release, not just the classics, can be successfully mined for these threads and connections, with even B-sides and castoffs being gems more often than not.

Sumday: Excess Baggage (2023), a newly-released collection of B-sides and rarities, is, in some ways, to Sumday as Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla was to Just Like the Fambly Cat: songs recorded at the same time and sharing compositional elements. Serving as just one component of a more significant effort to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the record whose name it bears, Sumday: Excess Baggage is especially worthwhile for its temporality, arriving two decades removed from Sumday and being all the more affecting as a result. The collection of songs is an artistic-historical overlay, which, like the image of labeling tape on the CD art for Sumday (and other album covers) or its ubiquitous studio counterpart, console tape, allows Lytle to overdub and mix up the past with freshly revealed layers.

“Derek Spears” will immediately endear to anyone for whom Grandaddy conjures a set of hangdog tales set to a piano in 6/8 time. Many of the old hallmarks are here. The Gatorade from Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla is now a “32-ounce soda to start the day off right”. These references to saccharine drinks function in a different way than the debate currently playing out about song lyrics that shame others for eating sweets. The character in “Derek Spears” is down on his luck, but Lytle never seems to be punching down. For a film analogy, his lyrics are more like Mike Leigh’s humanism than they are like Alexander Payne’s. The recurring, simple harmonica line that punctuates the character’s misadventures might be an invitation to reflect on how everyone makes excuses and rationalizations; it’s just that only a lucky few escape the effects of their exposure. 

“Gettin’ Jipped” parallels Sumday‘s opening song, “Now It’s On”, redolent of that song’s tempo, drum track, and guitar solo, but the lyrics cause the overall thrust of the piece to be a harsher exercise in learning some of life’s lessons. “The Town Where I’m Living Now”, released as the first single from Sumday: Excess Baggage, is another sad waltz about existing in a rundown and rotting place, possibly aligning with Lytle’s perspective and the need to change his setting and circumstances in the Sumday era and the years immediately following. One of the most effective throwbacks to Grandaddy’s rich history of rarities is “Build a Box”, which hews very close to “Aisle Seat 37-D”, one of the most vaunted stray tracks in Grandaddy’s history (finally widely released in 2011 as part of a Sophtware Slump deluxe reissue). “Build a Box” is nearly equal to “Aisle Seat 37-D”, offering a more grounded variation of that song’s attention to memories, photographs, and loss.

One especially overt excavation of Sumday is “Trouble with a Capital T (muzak version)”, which replaces most of Lytle’s lead vocal from the original (“Lost on Yer Merry Way”) with a keyboard, like a less radical version of Mount Eerie‘s process on Pre-Human Ideas. But the revision isn’t necessarily subtle, as when the lead vocal belatedly enters (around halfway through), the lyrics differ from the original “Lost on Yer Merry Way” from 2003. While nothing could top the effect of the cathartic “make it back home alive” section of the original, “Trouble with a Capital T (muzak version)” arguably coheres better with other songs from Sumday: Excess Baggage, a contrite correlative to the vagabond character from “Gettin’ Jipped”.

A final overlay worth noting is visual rather than aural or narrative. The cover art for Sumday: Excess Baggage consists of a taped-together collage of Grandaddy images: studio gear, shows, and landscapes. In the lower left quadrant is a photo of bass player Kevin Garcia looking at a monitor. This image originally appeared on the cover of the 1999 EP Signal to Snow Ratio.

Garcia died shortly after the release of Grandaddy’s most recent studio album, Last Place (2017). Consequently, on the Sumday: Excess Baggage cover, the message KGAR 4EVR now adorns the monitor, commemorating him. Garcia’s critical position within the band lives on in many ways, including our memory of the Sumday era, now expanded with revived music. Even if the studio version of Grandaddy was often a solo Lytle affair, the overall package of Sumday: Excess Baggage honors the unit the band was at the time, which this release invites the listener to return to, resisting what time does. 

RATING 7 / 10