Ultra Records, responsible for many of those trance compilations that overcrowd the electronic section in your favorite record store, has released a curious compilation of, well, rock songs. They’re compiled by Grandaddy’s chief, Jason Lytle, who brings together fifteen tracks for little other reason than they’ve escaped widespread attention. And although his selections leave no doubt as to his good taste, I’m left wondering why exactly anyone should care about the quality of his record collection.
Compounding the issue is that despite some relatively superficial similarities to Grandaddy’s own blend of lo-fi West Coast psychadelia, the comp’s roster is bereft of any clear narrative or thematic thread. An interesting premise would have made packaging older gems from reliable artists like Beck and Blonde Redhead with more obscure numbers from the Handsome Family and Virgil Shaw a project worth undertaking.
This is not to say there aren’t some excellent songs here. Mop-rockers Snow Patrol parry the right amount of drama with the right amount of rock on “Run,” a brash, radio-friendly tear-jerker that soars high on Gary Lightbody’s breathy Irish lilt. And Giant Sand’s “Bottom Line Man” mixes pulp wisdom with Tom Waits balladry, spitting out choice lines like, “Sorry is the soap star that can not choose her next film,” over swaying piano.
“Nature Anthem,” the lone addition to the Grandaddy catalogue to be found here, finishes off the compilation with an uninspired ode to nature’s simple pleasures. It’s buoyed by a chorus of marshmallow-roasting youngsters singing back-up to Lytle’s nasal vocals. The rest of the singer’s choices bounce along pleasantly enough but fail to elicit much more than comparisons to his own band’s recent output. And this is the whole problem. Below the Radio lacks the cohesive power to be self-referential. It can only remind you of the records you already own or inspire you to check out ones you don’t.