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Released on V2 records, 10/18

There's something dangerously comfortable about Grandaddy. At best, the melodramatic atmospheric pop that typifies their sound provides a deep, thick, fuzzy cushion into which the listener can burrow. At worst, Grandaddy is reminiscent of a chronically depressed friend -- easy to commiserate with during times of misfortune, but much less sympathetic when things are looking up. The Modesto group's latest EP, <i>Excerpts From Todd Zilla</i>, flirts with both their best and their worst.

Jason Lytle, the band's singer, guitarist, and oft-keyboardist really seems to have cornered what remains of the lo-fi space pop market. His songwriting is effective, but as a whole seems perennially reminiscent of itself. One might even go so far as to say formulaic, but after 12 years of producing mostly convincing work, let's just call it a style and move on. Basically, <i>Todd Zilla</i> isn't going to throw any surprises your way -- as Grandaddy rarely does. Again, the word comfort comes to mind. Thick fuzzy electric guitars, plodding acoustic guitars, melodramatic piano, Lytle's soaring whine and a plethora of sound thickening electronic nuggets provide a compelling mood, but never really pose any particular aural challenge. But that's not really a problem. This is as good as atmospheric, melancholy, melodic mid-tempo pop gets. Fortunately for Grandaddy, this genre hasn't quite extinguished itself yet.

Thematically, there are some frustrating moments on the EP. The meandering social laments that Grandaddy so often dwells upon are starting to sound quite a bit like that old depressed friend -- self-indulgent and frustratingly helpless. The most egregious of the songs is a pretty ballad, "Fuck the Valley Fudge". Nothing more than vocals and piano, the song is a critique of strip mall proliferation. "<i>Applebees, Chuck-E-Cheese, dirty deeds don't you see, Fuck the Valley Fudge, it's my hate and my love.</i>" Perhaps it's time for Grandaddy to stop bitching, or perhaps it's just time get the hell out of Modesto.

The up-tempo number, "Florida", suffers from similar thematic issues. "<i>Good afternoon from the bar in the mall. They sent me home from work today, but a buddy told me where else to go. My boss was alright at first, then he said that I fall behind. I like doing things my own way, and I don't take no shit from anyone.</i>" Many of Lytle's protagonists simply seem to be out of ideas, wasting away in a cesspool of suburban decay. Not that this kind of social criticism isn't valid. It just isn't all that new, nor is it particularly stimulating. However, musically, the out-of-character "Florida" is one of Grandaddy's most upbeat songs to date, a fact that saves it from itself.

The rest of the album is solid. The opener, "Pull The Curtains", is a quick, catchy rocker -- easily digested and thoroughly enjoyable. "At My Post" is reminiscent of the rambling epics from <i>The Sophtware Slump</i>, Grandaddy's critically acclaimed space-rock opera. Clocking in at over 6 minutes, it traverses a number of musical terrains in dramatic fashion. "A Valley Son (Sparing)", and "Cinderland" are both slow, pretty pieces. While being relatively non-descript, they comprise pleasant middle-of-the-album material. The closer, "Goodbye", at least to this reviewer, is the real standout on the album. It's a simple, beautiful love song with heartsick lyrics that soar on a gorgeous melody over acoustic guitar and subtle electronic pads. "Goodbye" is the kind of bittersweet melancholy that Grandaddy embodies at their very best.

<i>Excerpts From Todd Zilla</i> is classic Grandaddy -- lovely melodies, lush arrangements, and lo-fi production converging somewhere in the upper atmosphere. It's inconsistent, but comfortably predictable at the same time. Grandaddy fans will like it, and it has some genuinely beautiful moments. However, this short collection isn't going to convert any non-believers.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars