Sunday, September 14, 2008

Take Two: Rilo Kiley

Rilo Kiley is probably the most high-profile band to have ever signed to Saddle Creek, after Conor Oberst of course. They rode a wave of indie praise through their early albums, but as of late have not garnered as much critical acclaim, and I don't really know why. Indie critics hypocritically hate two things: bands that deviate from their sound too much, and bands that always sound the same. They want bands that don't deviate to experiment with new sounds, and want bands that go down the rabbit hole to just do what they loved in the first place. It's a lose-lose situation. I don't know why, but for some reason I've liked everything I ever heard from Rilo Kiley. They do different things on different albums, but every time it works for me.

Take Offs and Landings

"Science Vs. Romance" - I love how low-key the first couple songs on their debut record sound. It's very sparse, with Jenny Lewis' voice taking up most of the space, and it's a beautiful one. I know a lot of girls who would go gay for Jenny Lewis after seeing her in concert. This song has such a mellow tone to it, but the lyrics lambast the idea that love can be thought out scientifically, thus the title. Romance is a fluid and ever-changing idea that doesn't have plans that always work, and this song gets that point across nicely. The end of the song drives into a great guitar solo and breakdown, moving away from the completely toned-down sound of the record so far.

"August" - I really dig Blake Sennett, but across Rilo Kiley's albums they've started decreasing his songwriting input, which is a shame. This song, like a lot of Rilo Kiley songs, succeeds on its simplicity. It's a simple message, a simple riff, a simple sound, not much vocal stretching, but I like the sound a lot. There are times where all you want is something stripped down to its bare elements, and Rilo Kiley does a good job of crafting songs in that vein, albeit with a few little production touches here and there.

The Execution of All Things

"The Execution of All Things" - I love the high-pitched guitar line that comes in right before the end of the first verse, as well as the stream-of-consciousness lyrics from Jenny Lewis. They got more atmospheric on their second album, with more little digital blurbs going in different places, but they still kept a great guitar boom between the verses.

"With Arms Outstretched" - A great build from acoustic guitar and Jenny Lewis to a more chorus-like vocal track with many voices, even building to group clapping as the song closes. I like the stripped-down feel and softness of the track, and it slips very nicely into the end of the record.

More Adventurous

"Does He Love You?" - Around this album was when Jenny Lewis pretty much took over all songwriting duties, and she got really amazing at storytelling in her songs for this record. This tells the story of a mistress in heartbreaking fashion, and the emotional highs and lows that Lewis hits in her vocals are amazing.

"Accidental Death" - Perhaps the greatest verse in all of Rilo Kiley's songs is the second verse, about a story of a father hunting deer. The instrumentation is wonderfully layered, the drums echo greatly, the guitars hit the right intensity, and those lyrics are the kind that make me wish I could write a song like they do. It's one of the best songs of the decade for me, and my favorite song on the album.

Under the Blacklight

"Breakin' Up" - A lot of people don't like this album, but I still really dig it as a distinctly LA breakup record. Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett had recently broken up, and just like No Doubt ten years earlier they got a great breakup track out of it. I love the little guitar riff that floats through the song, and for a former child actor and LA resident for a long time, Jenny Lewis does a damn good job of sounding a little bit country in her singing.

"Smoke Detector" - The best lyric on the entire album to me is the second verse when Lewis sings "I took a man back to my room/I was smoking him in bed" then for the rest of the song she only sings "I was smoking in bed." It's like a wink to the audience, only in lyric form. The song is very 60s-simple pop as well, but there are still sleazy LA dark bits around the edges. I love the way that they made a light sounding album full of so much dark little bits sprinkled throughout the songs. Most people say its their worst record, but I really think Under the Blacklight was a great step in a new direction for the band. Unfortunately, with Jenny Lewis rising as a solo artist and the strain of a breakup and increased success, it could be their last.

Non-Album Tracks
"The Frug" - Some of the best Rilo Kiley songs are beautiful for their simplicity. This is one of the best for that reason alone, but the utter catchiness of the melody does a lot to help.

"Teenage Love Song" - Most of the time its annoying when non-teens sing about teenage life, but the attitude Jenny Lewis has as she sings forlornly on this track makes me believe she can fit back into a teen mindset. The song is simple, heartbreaking, humorous, and somehow very calm.


Michael said...

I've found it really interesting that in all (most?) of your Take Two's thus far, you've had no room for my favorite song from each band. Notably here: No love for "The Good That Won't Come Out?" Shit. That's my favorite RK song, like, ev. ar.

Keep up the great writing.

Jay Allbritton said...

Great post about a great band. I think it's important to note that Jenny and Blake broke up long before Under the Blacklight. They broke up between Take Offs and Landings and The Execution of All Things. So their last three albums have featured several break up songs that the two have written about each other. Breakin' Up strikes me as being as much about revisiting her break up with Blake as it is about the band possibly breaking up. It looks like they're going to do at least one more tour though, since at least two members have confirmed a b-sides and rarities collection for later this year or next year. Word on the street is that they'll tour in support of that collection.