Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Todd Zilla

Oddly enough, A Valley Son (Sparing) was the first Grandaddy song I ever heard. I imagine most people started with something like A.M. 180 (as heard on the 28 Days Later soundtrack) or He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot (the first track on The Sophtware Slump), but not me - I started with this:

It was featured on an fantastic compilation called Fear of Music, which came free with a Broken Social Scene CD that I bought in early 2006.

A Valley Son doesn't exactly come out all guns blazing, but it has a sad, lackadaisical beauty that I gradually warmed to. Eventually, I was moved to delve deeper into Grandaddy's repertoire, and my delving was richly rewarded by the melancholy futuristic brilliance of albums like The Sophtware Slump and Under the Western Freeway

However, it took me quite a long time to get 'roud to A Valley Son's parent album. I eventually picked up a second-hand copy of Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla - ostensibly an EP but easily long enough to qualify as an album in my book - from Rise in Bristol, and it's a real oddity, tucked away in the folds of the Grandaddy back catalogue like one of those receipts you forget to remove from your back pocket before washing your jeans. It shares none of the themes that unite Grandaddy's other albums; instead of warning us about technology and what it might do to us, Todd Zilla's songs mostly dwell on what it's like to live in some dead-end town that you hate. It's kind of like Grandaddy's Springsteen moment.

Todd Zilla was recorded around the same time as Grandaddy's fourth proper album Just Like the Fambly Cat, and one of the most enjoyable things about this album EP thingy is hearing the band blow off steam. Pull the Curtains and Florida are two of the most upbeat, rawked-up songs they recorded, and Florida in particular sounds utterly bizarre when you're used to the Grandaddy who gave us sadsack anthems like Jed the Humanoid.

"My ex-girlfriend's a model in Florida - she wants me back, but I don't take no shit!" It's like if Thom Yorke recorded a rap about the size of his dick.

These frantic pieces contrast sharply with more lugubrious moments like At My Post and the aforementioned A Valley Son (Sparing). As a result, Todd Zilla does sound a little disjointed and scattershot at first, but it's actually pretty cohesive thematically even if it's all over the place sonically. Jason Lytle, reportedly sick of his hometown Modesto, recorded the album as "not so much a farewell as a fuck off to the town", and the unnamed 'Valley' that's mentioned on several tracks and seems to serve as an anonymous analogue for Modesto certainly takes a lot of heat over the course of the half-hour. Most hilariously scathing of all is Fuck the Valley Fudge, in which Lytle plots to "take down the man" by producing and selling 'Fuck the Valley' fudge as a kind of anti-souvenir for people who come to visit.

The fudge, made of "drywall sludge" and "stucco dust", sounds about as appealing as actually having to live in the Valley itself.

Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla is a strange, gnarly branch of the Grandaddy tree, but if you can't wait for the new album that's supposedly on its way then I'd definitely recommend hunting it down.

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