Retrospection, reflection and memory shade Grandaddy's Just Like the Fambly Cat, the California art rockers' fifth and final album, due May 9th. As the capstone to the band's fourteen-year career, the record teems with the shimmery, layered pop of Grandaddy's earlier efforts cut through with edgier guitar sounds.
"There was a lot of stuff that needed to be addressed with the band," frontman Jason Lytle says of the tensions that grew over the year and a half it took to write and produce Fambly Cat. "We knew there were things we couldn't continue to do in the way we did -- but nobody was offering up any suggestions as to what to do now. How do we fix this? Do we all get makeovers and lobotomies? Or reverse lobotomies? But I was just so on the path of seeing this album through, I didn't want to know. And it caused a lot of friction, a lot of intensity."
Musically, the album invites introspection from its haunting, two-minute opener, "What Happened . . .," a skeletal piano meditation that layers a sample of two young children cooing "What happened to the family cat?" over small bursts of static.
"I wanted the child character to be somewhere between five and seven years old and to have some sort of cute voice," Lytle explains. "I actually have a friend who's in the process of recording these children's albums, so I knew he had access to a well-varied supply of kids and their voices. I narrowed it down to those two and started cutting and pasting and manipulating."
The album's title -- partly a reference to Lytle's childhood pet that died -- is, appropriately, about endings. "The thing that I've come to know cats to do, when it's time for them to go or leave or die," he says, "rather than make a big spectacle of it, they have this dignified way of disappearing."
That wistful quality is captured on songs such as the melancholy epic "Rearview Mirror," which Lytle says was inspired by the death of a close friend. "Some people get a little too wrapped up. They're not getting over things and moving on," he says. "So, rather than looking out the front windshield, you're fixated on the rearview mirror and you can't get on with your life."
While the album does feature sprightlier tunes -- like the mostly instrumental, ecstatic "Skateboarding Saves Me Twice" -- Fambly Cat is darker than that. "I'm a fan of that whole high-drama, shooting-across-the-open-skies sound," Lytle is forced to admit. "It's big and cinematic and corny, but I really love that stuff."
Grandaddy have no plans to tour behind their final release. And Lytle is currently preparing to leave the band's base in Modesto to re-settle in Montana. "Knowing how affected I am by my closely associated environment," he says, "I'm looking forward to surrounding myself with timeless and monumental and beautiful things."