Jason Lytle’s signature abundance of sounds and textures, computerized blips and buzzes crowded together with layered guitars and synth hums, are on full display on Dept. of Disappearance. This could become an entirely dehumanized and paranoiac set of effects, but fans of Lytle’s previous work, both as the main songwriter for millennial indie prog-rockers Grandaddy and as a solo artist, know that in his hands, and with his soft singing voice, scattering of oceanic whooshing sounds, and variety of string instruments, even the dystopic can reveal a measure of gentility.
Dept. of Disappearance continues Lytle’s steady move toward a state of permanent pie-eyed wonder. It’s an innocence he used to temper with glimpses of poetic menace, which lent his music a certain fragility, but as time goes on, the melancholy and unease in his music has receded. Filtered through Lytle’s worldview, a hangman’s noose can narrate a lament for its victims, as in “Hangtown,” a gentle, guileless ballad. For the most part, the album displays an insistent beauty, where melodies arise in soft-textured instrumental swells with saccharine strings and humming electronics. The refrain to “Young Saints,” which Lytle leads into with minimal bass accompaniment and nearly whispered singing, arrives in a sudden reverberating synth sweep with Lytle exclaiming, “You are gone!” That statement rings true for much of the album’s first half: It’s difficult not to get swept away by, and even admire, the unrelenting sweetness of the songs.
Eventually, though, it becomes equally hard not to gag on the twee preciousness of songs like “Get Up and Go,” “Willow Wand,” and “Somewhere There’s a Someone.” Fortunately, the penultimate track, “Your Final Setting Sun,” about the sadness and confusion of a dying man looking at the sun for the last time, is steeped in a sense of mortality and helplessness. Featuring the strongest backbeat on the album, the song boasts the only substantive uses of dissonance and aggression throughout Dept. of Disappearance. It’s a welcome, if late, acknowledgement that a little regret and uncertainty is sometimes necessary to complete a satisfying journey.