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Pop Albums: Grandaddy Under The Western Freeway (Big Cat ABB152CD)

Awful name, awful sleeve, awful Amish-style beards... Grandaddy, it would seem, have nothing going for them but their music. Which is just as well, since Under the Western Freeway is one of the most beguiling debuts of the year, an uncategorisable blend of styles and sounds whose closest comparison would probably be with fellow American indie oddities Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips. Like them, Grandaddy mix guitars, popcorn synths and noise into meltingly beautiful pop tunes, a fortuitous collision of Brian Wilson, Neil Young and the Pixies which throws out a stream of understated pop gems.

We're back on Planet Slacker here, but in the most agreeable way. Creative mainspring Jason Lytle's songs deal mainly with the open-ended aimlessness of modern American life, with the simple pleasures of drinking beer and playing guitar lent an unfathomable mystery by the enigmatic melodies of songs such as "Collective Dreamwish of Upperclass Elegance". It's an appealing life: "We'll sit for days and talk about things/ Important to us like whatever/ We'll defuse bombs, walk marathons/ And take on whatever together," sings Lytle in "AM180", an enthusiastic alternative to the spoilt, sulky tone of much American "alternative" music. Wide-eyed and ingenuous, experimental but primitive, and always seeking to add colour and mystery to the world, Under the Western Freeway is utterly winning.