Emerging from disbanded indie-rock outfit Grandaddy with 2009’s Yours Truly, The Commuter, Jason Lytle moved beyond his former lo-fi psychedelics into majestic, atmospheric soundscapes fitted seamlessly into pop structures. Inspired by his relocation to Montana, Lytle’s sophomore follow-up, Dept. Of Disappearance, doesn’t so much continue down that path as much as it stops to take in the view. After several years in his new home (and the relatively relaxed life to be found there), Lytle sounds confident, loose, and comfortable, both with his surroundings and the sound of his solo career.
With its blend of electronics and acoustics, Dept. Of Disappearance is stylistically more of the same, full of boundless beauty and shadowy unknown. This time, however, it’s all delivered with a sense of familiarity, without the undercurrents of discovery and awe that ran through his first effort. All the necessary elements of grand, cinematic compositions are here, as on “Last Problem Of The Alps,” with its driving piano and guitar, pounding percussion, swelling orchestration, and windswept noise effects (wind being a go-to sonic add-on throughout the album). But the songs often sacrifice melody in favor of paint-by-numbers drama.
Lytle is at his best when he moves his symphonic material into darker territory. “Somewhere There’s A Someone,” a bittersweet six-minute epic that evolves from echoing piano and Lytle’s hushed whisper—and, yes, wind—to a climatic swirl of lush strings, cyclonic keyboards, and achingly emotive harmonies provides a particular highlight. And whether Lytle is singing of impending death on “Your Final Setting Sun” or offering hope and encouragement on “Get Up And Go,” Dept. Of Disappearance is thoughtful and sincere throughout, with genuine moments of grandeur and striking isolation. On the whole, however, the album is even-tempered where it should be adventurous, mild when there should be marvelous. Lytle’s music often visits wondrous, haunting places; on Dept. Of Disappearance, however, he just shows listeners the postcard.