One day I think I’m going to have to put my flash abilities to the test and make an interactive web of all the romantic, acting, and musical entanglements the members of LA’s Rilo Kiley have sprung over their career. I think that through seven degrees of Kevin Bacon Rilo Kiley might be connected to every single person in the music and the acting world. Seriously.
Here’s what I mean. Both lead singer Jenny Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennet were child stars. You (girls) might remember Jenny for her role as red headed Hannah Nefler in “Troop Beverly Hills“, while TV watchers might recall Blake’s stunning performances as Ronnie Pinsky in “Salute Your Shorts” and Joey the Rat in “Boy Meets World“. After a whirlwind of film appearances that you won’t recognize, the two decided to date and start a band with bassist Pierre De Reeder and drum man Jason Boesel and release a self-titled EP (the third pressing got the title of The Initial Friend, which causes some confusion). The first EP sounds young, from Lewis’s voice to the lyrical content and borderline bubble-gum-pop sound, but you can hear the promise that lays beneath.
Enter 2001’s Take Offs and Landings and 2002’s The Execution of All Things. The group leans heavier on synth/noise experimentation and Blake and Jenny have struck a rediculously impressive stride in their songwriting. Tracks like “Science v. Romance”, “Spectacular Views”, “The Execution of All Things”, “A Better Son/Daughter” and “With Arms Outstretched” aren’t the kind of indie songs you hear and forget about, they crawl inside your ear and force you to mull over their twisting lyrics in those quiet minutes before you can fall asleep.
But today’s Friday favorite isn’t either of those albums. During the two year span it took the group to release their next record they went from being a medium deal to a big fucking deal band for what they weren’t doing together. Jenny Lewis did backing vocals and toured with her then-boyfriend Ben Gibbard (see: Death Cab for Cutie) for his hugely popular side project with Dntel (see: the Postal Service) and Blake and Jason dropped a debut on SubPop with their own side project (see: The Elected). It’s no wonder that by the time the group got around to releasing 2004’s “More Adventurous” a substantially larger group took notice.
And they picked a fantastic record to take notice of. “More Adventurous” is, in this blogger’s opinion, the best record Rilo Kiley has yet to produce. The electro synth tendencies of the earlier albums was downplayed, an element of folk and harder rock took its place, while above them Lewis’s vocals peaked to create a marriage of sensuality and purity.
Track opener “It’ a hit” is a catchy satire that features horns and Blake’s now trademark crispy electric riffs. Things quickly turn dramatic on track two with “Does He Love You?”, a whispy love triange of betrayal that Lewis narrates epicly (lyric: your husband will never leave you/he will never leave you for me). Everyone who has seen the pilot of Greys Anatomy knows the next one, “Portions for Foxes” which was this albums single. Severe overplay and said nighttime soap use makes it a must-skip-track, but if its your first listen we’ll understand why you love this song. It’s catchy, it’s poppy, and it’s blatantly sexual.
Blake sings the next one, a choppy acoustic track called “Ripchord” that you won’t like if you can’t take Blake’s whispery vocals. Jenny outstages him easily on “I Never” a velvety track with jazzy elements that pits Jenny in her favorite bad-girl role (Lyric: I’ve been bad/I’ve lied, cheated, stolen/and been ungrateful for what I’ve had). My tied-for-favorite track on the album is next, titled “Absence of God” a gentle and folksy acoustic track with fantastic lyrical content delivered by a crooning Lewis. “Accidntel Deth” revisits the synth sound of record past, but this time we’re forced to respect it as it’s provided by the Postal Service’s Dntel (thus the weird spelling in the title).
Title track and my other tied-for-favorite track is “More Adventurous” a folk track with harmonica solo’s, honest lyrics, and a warm acoustic riff you can feel in your gut. “Love and War (11/11/46)” is a harder rock, electric track that comes off as harsh after coming on the tails of a gentler track, but the acoustic softness returns with “Man/Me/Then Jim”, where Blake delivers a gorgeous guitar riff and I suspect might have penned the lyrics (that or Jenny used to date a woman). The closing track isn’t too memorable, but it’s good enough as it crescendo’s slowly over time and features stocatto guitar riffs, piano, and bells.
We won’t go any further in Rilo’s musical history as their latest album Under the Blacklight is just…yeah.