Admiral Radley – I Heart California

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Odds are you know more about Admiral Radley than you think you do.  Comprised of Grandaddy members (namely Jason Lytle) and Earlimart members, the band has concocted an album titled I Heart California, which has left the Internet hounds wondering precisely what would come of this collaboration.  Well, if you know these artists, then you know precisely what the sound will be, and you’ll either love it or hate it, depending on your attachment to aforementioned parties.

Kicking things off is this Grandaddy-esque “I Heart California.”  It’s laden with pounding piano, blended with textures from electronic land, and it blossoms during the chorus with that trademark wall of euphoria. Odd lyrics, well, for a song about California, such as “fake tits in the symphony” make one wonder about Lytle’s dedication to his homestate, especially after his move to Montana.  Nonetheless, it’s the catchiest number of the collection, and one worthy of so many repeat listens.

But, bubbly software pop is not all that fills the minutes on I Heart California.  Aaron Espinoza takes the lead vocal on several tracks throughout the duration, and his soft touch gives tracks such as “Ghosts of Syllables” a warmer, less-quirky sound.  It’s an interesting dynamic, providing listeners with a substantial bit of deviation between songs, although this might lead some to look at a lack of cohesion, or perhaps a schizophrenia within the writing process. Aaron isn’t the only Earlimart member to share his voice here, as Ariana Murray gets her own number with “The Thread.”  It’s something that seems to fit with her own personal style, using a certain light-hearted approach to the crafting of the melody, which really takes control of the song itself.  However, it seems oddly placed smack in the middle of the record, and it kind of breaks up any momentum the album had.

All their appearances aside, Jason Lytle is really the mainstay, or the big ticket here.  His presence alone provides Admiral Radley with a substantial amount of credibility from the get go, and it pays off with songs like “GNDN.”  Skeletal piano holds the song up, as quiet guitar strumming and light percussion build the landscape of the song itself.  Electronic beeps and blips, a Lytle staple, are largely absent, at least in the final mix, which actually makes a strong argument for Jason as a songwriter.  There’s something in the fragility of his voice here, something unnamed that makes it all extremely affecting.

Most listeners will likely find the last four songs the most enduring in their playtime of I Heart California.  “End of Me” starts the final run, and if you could strip the casio keyboard effects away, it might succeed as the best song on the album.  Beginning quietly, it erupts into a pretty solid rocker.  In fact, the more you listen, the more this might be  your favorite song here.  From there you go to “GNDN” all the way to “I Left U Cuz I Luft U.”  All if makes a strong closing statement, providing some structure and cohesiveness that seemed a little bit scattered from the beginning.

Casual listeners of Admiral Radley will definitely find some really rewarding moments on I Heart California. They’ll find pop gems waiting to make your day brighter; they’ll find the attraction to Jason Lytle many discovered years ago.  Those who fell in love with Grandaddy and Earlimart might be a bit disappointed, however, as you expect these four to knock it out of the park, blasting us all into sunshine.  Instead, they give us a good record, not a great one.  There’s nothing wrong with that in the long run, as good records are often rare nowadays, and, besides, isn’t it just nice to have Lytle still around writing music?  One listen here, and you’ll be sure to agree.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/1-I-Heart-California-1.mp3]

Download: Admiral Radley – I Heart California [MP3]

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