Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight

September 1, 2007

Taking steps into opposite directions simultaneously is a brave move. A band such as Rilo Kiley, who is usually credited for making very approachable and traditional music, would not be expected to make a move such as this, but then again the band is used to big changes and refuse to stay the same as they progress. The hell of it is that the move is parallel, making the release of Under The Blacklight some sort of wild triple entente. As the music enters the world of major label releases, the biggest change is in accessibility. Under The Blacklight is easily Rilo Kiley’s most approachable and immediately enjoyable record yet. And yet it still holds some dark secrets, and feels in some ways more sophisticated than it’s predecessors.

It’s a good sign when you get done with the first half of the album, and the majority of the songs sound so naturally catchy that you feel you must have heard them before at some point. And it’s an even better sign when this consistency pushes through the last half just as strongly. It’s easy to say that this is Rilo Kiley’s poppiest record, or most catchy, but really what is pop? The fact that most every song is lovable is due to simple talent here. To be sure, the band are in better shape than they have probably ever been. Jenny Lewis is at what might as well be her vocal peak, and sounds great. Blake Sennett has never seemed to be more in control. Just about all of his performances here are spot on, and creative as well. The latin heel tapper Dejalo is an especial highlight for him with a relaxed but ultimately impressive guitar solo near the end. And many of his melodies are precise and staccato this time around. Close Call and The Moneymaker come to mind in that respect. The song structure, however, is rather predictable. The repetition makes everything seem more level headed and natural, but at the same time one might have expected for Rilo Kiley to pull a few more risky cards than they do. This makes the album feel like it has a bit less to offer over the long term, at times, despite the quality of the music.

That’s where the upshot comes in. Rilo Kiley proved their music to be largely about the lyrics on the last album, More Adventurous. The lyrics were not only meaningful, but also compact and large in number. Those lyrics were enough to keep fans more than entertained, but mesmerized, until this album. On one hand, the lyrics here are much less creative. Many songs are simple repetitions of the song title. And yet while they might hold significantly less sentimental value, they are still the keystone to the music. The catch here is that while the lyrics are more simple and singable, their subject matter is very dark. On almost every song, Jenny pulls this trick in her favor and sings about prostitution, statutory rape, and pained relationships, all in a happy way. Possibly the most obvious and standout is Breakin’ Up, probably the happiest breakup song you have ever heard. When someone as pretty sounding as Jenny Lewis starts singing about dark things in a happy setting, you start to hear a really interesting, almost perverse contrast.

This might also be Rilo Kiley’s most diverse album. There are reoccurring themes in the record, namely a gospel theme that works really well on the opening Silver Lining, The Angels Hung Around, and Give a Little Love, but for the most part every song feels like an original work. Possibly the most innocent the album gets is the title track, but to be fair, the Blacklight is, at least from what I have gathered, a hub for transsexual hookers in L.A. But small details like this being open for interpretation makes the listening experience that much more delicious. My favorite song might be Dreamworld, the rare case in which Blake sings, which Jenny accompanying in a hazy harmony. This lyrics here have more imagery and depth than anything else on the album.

But I’m going to be quite honest with you here. Rilo Kiley’s style has never been something that interested or compelled me. I didn’t really want to like this album as much as I did, but hey, the end justifies the means, and now I am in the process of working my way backwards in the discography and am finding that everything that at once bored me is making me genuinely interested. As a Rilo Kiley expert has divulged to me, Under The Blacklight is different than the records that preceded it, enough so that the comparison is like apples to oranges. My complaints about this record are few and far between, even when I seem to be looking for them. The only one that really holds any leverage from me is how some of the lyrics are a little bit shallow, but this is nothing that will prove to be significant to Rilo Kiley fans, especially when there is another lyrical theme that sticks out. I am also lucky enough to be attending the next Rilo Kiley concert in Chicago on the 15th, and I’m sure it’s going to be a blast. I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t include this in my top five of the year thus far. I mean, seriously, I have searched at length for a bad song and have given up empty handed. Really solid record. Rilo Kiley wins.

BOOBS. That is all.

One comment

  1. hi

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