Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rilo Kiley: Indie (to) Pop?

So I am the kind of guy (I think the guy part might be important here) who likes to delude himself into believing that he can understand things better by going back to their origins and then following their neat, linear and chronological path forward to their current state. So when David over at IndieMuse recently posted on Pierre de Reeder's new solo effort, I immediately needed to go back to the discography of de Reeder's home band, Rilo Kiley.

The two albums in question here are their 2001 effort, Take Offs and Landings, and their 2007 effort, Under the Blacklight, and I want to set my comments in the context of UNCUT's review of the more recent album.

UNCUT starts their totally favorable review with a tortured narrative about Neil Young to finally arrive at the point that a popular album shouldn't necessarily be equated with a sell-out, by noting that "Under The Blacklight is by far and away the most accessible album that Rilo Kiley have ever made. But, d'you know what? This is a GOOD THING!"

Why? Well, apparently RK had previously been "slightly irritating" with "an affected kookiness to Jenny Lewis' vocals" and thank goodness they like the Eagles "stopped listening to their coked-up peers on the LA scene, cut loose of their fears and started listening to the radio."

So here is the thing. I totally agree with the assertions that pop doesn't equal sell-out, but I just don't quite agree with the revelation and transformation narrative here. Mainly because while I do enjoy Under the Blacklight and I get the whole "dark lyrics hiding amongst the pop trees" here, if I were to recommend an RK disc, it would be the earlier Take Offs and Landings by a mile. I don't find Lewis' vocals to be either irritating or affected, but rather personal, contemplative and funny. I like the rockier and more basic R&B feel of the earlier disc as opposed to what feels like a bit too produced throw-back disco of the latter. And while the music on Take Off's has a bit of an indie feel to it, it is certainly not all that far from pop, if at all.

As Lewis notes in her interview with UNCUT when asked about the pop nature of Under the Blacklight:
I've always been a fan of pop music and if you listen to our earlier recordings and our early demos, we started out as a pop band and sort of moved away from that a little bit. I don't think we've ever really been an indie band, it's just that we've made records that were released on independent labels and we kind of worked with what we had at our disposal.

I confess, I don't know the middle albums in RK's discography (there are two other albums between these two releases), but I would suggest that you have two pop albums here, one on an Indie label, Barsuk, and the other on a major label, Warner. Whether that and/or the band's development are the driving factors in any of the differences here, I am going to stick with recommending the earlier album.

But hey--just one guy's opinon. Here are a couple cool tracks from each album to give you a taste. The first two from Take Offs and Landings and the second two from Under the Blacklight. They might not sound all that different put together here, but I think you will agree the albums do if you listen to them side-by-side. And no matter how you slice it, Rilo Kiley is definitely worth a peek.

Science vs. Romance
Pictures of Success
Close Call
Give A Little Love

1 comment:

Payton said...

i've often struggled with the pop/radio success = sell out theory myself - with many of some of my favorite (and formerly favorite) artists. it's a fine line line that is too easily reached in the eyes of many fans and critics.

anywho... lookin' good with the uploaded songs.