Modesto, California has to be an awfully barren and lonely place. It's neither a booming metropolis nor a quaint fishing village, and it's basically stuck in the middle of nowhere. It's therefore something of a mystery as to why the five members of Grandaddy, a relatively successful outfit monetarily speaking, continue to live in such a place. It's not until you sit down and listen to one of their records that you truly understand the magical role Modesto plays in Grandaddy's grand scheme; they feed off the town's subdued mystery, extracting the essence of its isolation to create their pastorally beautiful technophobic claustrophobia.
The tension Grandaddy has harnessed since day one has been honed to a diamond-sharp point on Sumday, a gauche song-cycle that deals with despondency, trepidation, convolution and marvel. Backed by his trusty bearded army, sonic architect Jason Lytle has fashioned a fuzzy sonic netherworld, equal parts Electric Light Orchestra pomp, scuzz-punk bombast and glowering analog scorn. "Now It's On" and "El Caminos in the West" turn traditional rock themes upside-down, skewering the inanity of the modern pop idiom with rustic wit, lustrous keyboards and guitars that sound like lint-covered lollipops. As ever, failed experiments form the heart of idiosyncratic odes such as "I'm on Standby" and "Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World", while the self-referencing "The Group Who Couldn't Say" is the best trial pop song the group has ever committed to tape -- a perfect balance between experimental gusto and soft-focus pop smarts.
One of the major differences between this and other Grandaddy releases is that Lytle finally seems comfortable in his role as production auteur. While previous efforts were marred by his overbearing desire for sonic autonomy, Sumday is the point at which his Boho artistry and staid precision come together in a single effortless gesture; "Yeah is What We Had" and "Lost on Yer Merry Way" are particularly potent examples of his deft touch both in the studio and behind the keyboard.
Cynics might be quick to proclaim Sumday irrelevant on the basis that it doesn't mark a significant departure from the band's previous work, but that seems almost beside the point. Sumday isn't coldly calculating or resolutely obstinate -- on the contrary, it's the warm, fuzzy album you curl up with in the dead of winter, the soundtrack for your impromptu summer fiesta, and the closest Jason Lytle and Grandaddy have come to solving their own rural sonic puzzle.