Rilo Kiley is at the center of the Hip Indie universe, which predisposes some people to dislike them and others to love them uncritically. (Happily, your music blogger falls in neither camp.) Singer Jenny Lewis (like fellow RK fronter Blake Sennett, a former child TV star) is not only a fashion icon, not only cute as a button, but is a friend and collaborator to virtually every literate, sensitive indie band playing today. (For example, she sang on the Postal Service album, and toured with them for a while.) Not surprisingly, she is an object of devotion for kids with thick-framed glasses across the nation. She’s also, as it happens, a rip-roaring vocalist, though she didn’t really come into her own until recently.
RK has followed a familiar trajectory. Their first album, Take-Offs and Landings, tended toward the precious, particularly in Lewis’ shy, breathy vocals, though it was undeniably catchy. With their second album, The Execution of All Things, they moved to label-of-the-moment Saddle Creek and hit their stride, playing with a lot more oomph — more rock, less twee. That album remains one of my all-time favorites, certainly in my top five of the last decade.
Having become indie darlings, they immediately started chafing against the constraints. They started their own imprint on Warner Bros. (sellouts!) called Brute/Beute and in 2004 released More Adventurous, which, per its name, stretched out into all sorts of different genres, including outright torch songs (“I Never”). Lewis’ singing by this time was way more confident, really belted out, and the album’s critical acclaim was all but universal.
After that, Lewis and Sennett (who used to date) went their separate ways. She released an acclaimed solo album called Rabbit Fur Coat and he made a couple of (overlooked) albums with his side project, The Elected.
Lewis has become a celebrity, and all signs point to Rilo Kiley splitting for good. That’s too bad, since in my (obviously minority) opinion, Sennett was the band’s heart — it’s his raging guitar work and knack for melody that attracted me in the first place. As far as I can tell, I’m alone in enjoying his singing and believing that The Elected’s stuff is better than Lewis’ solo stuff. She doesn’t do well as a diva. They need each other, like Lennon and McCartney or Waters and Gilmour.
Anyway! I’m rambling. Point is, they did get back together, at least for one more album: Under the Blacklight, released this week. It’s a fairly sharp break and has divided fans and reviewers. The indie sound is almost entirely gone. In its place is a simple, muscular, dance-oriented sound that flirts occasionally with disco. In my humble opinion, the album is too much Lewis, too little Sennett — too much singer showing off, too little song development. That said, it’s a great album, worth your consumer dollar.
This song, the first single, is called “Moneymaker.” Shake your booty.
PS, RK’s on tour. I’m seeing them in Seattle next Saturday. Wo0t!