Friday, August 24, 2007
Album Review: Under the Blacklight
I remember the first time I heard a record that made me want to hear every single piece of music made by an artist. I subscribed to Rolling Stone in the beginning of my sophomore year, and the first issue I got was the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list that created endless debate over the status of great records. I remember reading a blurb about a band called Echo & the Bunnymen, and combined with references in two of my favorite movies, High Fidelity and Donnie Darko, I decided to buy one of their albums. Since Tower Records still existed, I browsed the aisles until I found their section, only to find one single copy of their self-titled last album. Now, at the time I had no idea which album it was, what it meant for the band, or even which album I had intended to buy, but by some twist of fate I just bought the record anyways. When I first played the record, I didn't leave the room until the last notes had finished. I don't know how to describe it, but I was just enthralled by the complexities of the sound, the gravely tones of Ian McCulloch's voice, and Will Sergeant's sailing guitar. I went back to Tower over the course of the next month and bought every album the band ever produced, and became an Echo fanatic.
Now, I tell that story for one singular reason: I have found another album that instills in me the desire to own all music produced by an artist, Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley. In a short 37-minute span, I now like the band so much that I want to buy all their music, go to concerts, and follow news regarding the band.
From what I know of the band, they are an LA based band that got a start recording for Saddle Creek Records. All I knew of the band before this band was from the film An Evening With Saddle Creek (which is a great doc about the rise of an indie label, I highly recommend it).
At only a little over a half an hour in running time, the songs on Under the Blacklight are for the most part crafted to function at or around three and a half minutes. That pop sensibililty to the album makes each of the songs perfectly compartmentalized for a small segment of time. They twist around through your ears for its designated stretch of time, and then leave to allow the next infectious melody feast on your eardrums.
I've read other reviews saying that the album can be seen as struggling with life in LA, or dealing with the breakup within the band (the song "Breakin' Up" would seem to be a dead giveaway about its subject matter). Whatever the case, the album certainly is sexually charged, and the music has a strange danceability about it on many songs. Under the Blacklight also finds Rilo Kiley changing genres and sounds on almost every song. No two songs sound very similar on the record, and I find that a testament to the band's ability to make an album worth of fresh sounds that still fit cohesively, with most of the credit going to Jenny Lewis' voice, which ties all of the songs together wonderfully.
The album starts with a saloon-type country infused track ("Silver Lining"), and a little bit of a country sound does creep in on many of the tracks, but it isn't the tired Toby Keith or Garth Brooks country, the sort of music that always sounds the same no matter who's playing it. Instead, the country tones add a personal sound to the album, as though Lewis is truley singing her heart out on these tracks.
I don't know much about how Under the Blacklight stacks up against Rilo Kiley's back catalogue, considering it's the only album of theirs I own, but after hearing this half hour slice of pop genius, I know I'll be heading back to a record store soon to stock up on everything they ever made. Give this album a chance, and maybe you'll find a favorite new discovery as well.