under the blacklight
i'm a huge rilo kiley fan -- huge! and so it was with excitement and trepidation that i finally got my hands on their new release, under the blacklight. excitement because, well, it's rilo kiley, whose literate brand of indie pop/rock has been tickling my ears going on three full proper albums and a smattering of early releases and b-sides. but trepidation because of the first single, "moneymaker", which has been hotly debated over the past few weeks as either a bold new direction for the band or a total sell-out to their new major label deal with warner bros. i heard the song as the latter--it's a new direction, indeed, but one that seemed to be so contrived out of the work of a polished producer like mike elizondo. cookie-cutter, if you will. but hey, i understand that artists need to follow their instincts, even if it means a drastic change in sound and appearance, and so i prepared myself to listen to under the blacklight with an open mind. i wanted to like it, i really did. but...
the albums starts off promising enough, with "silver lining" being a shining example of perfectly blending slick production, jenny lewis' always-sterling voice, and a sweet little blake sennet riff. not to mention backup choral vocals, the always-trusty handclaps, and the delivery of the line "i never felt so wicked / as when i willed our love to die". the second song, "close call", also nicely integrates shiny instrumentals into a song that still recalls that familiar rilo kiley sound.
"moneymaker" is the third song and what i hoped would just be a bump in the road. unfortunately, the overwraught production and uninspired monotony that seems to dominate commercial pop radio seems to dominate the rest of the record as well. the band take various turns impersonating what must be presumed are their heroes from the 80's (gloria estefan and miami sound machine, anyone?), but each time came off sounding trite and rather pedestrian to me. the title track especially unnerved me with its cheesy synth and bland vocals--if i want to listen to hillary duff, i'll go...wait...what? and then along comes the requisite blake sennet-sung track, "dreamworld". on past rilo kiley records, the songs sung by blake were startling (but admirable in their own way) in the distinct contrast between sennet's voice and jenny lewis' voice. "dreamworld" is startling on this record as well, but only because the production value just does not suit blake's sound. i just don't think it works, for whatever reason. "15" is a bit of a welcome respite, with an appearance of the country twang that "i never" from more adventurous hinted at and rabbit fur coat fully embraced. but then the last three songs are just a bit...forgettable.
one can't really blame any artist for wanting to experiment with different sounds and genres, but in this case i just hope that it was a creative decision on the part of the band rather than a forced decision on the part of major label pressure. the worst part of under the blacklight for me was how criminally under-utilized jason boesel's drums were. the guy is a world-class drummer, but in many songs the percussion is just, well, boring. i guess i can hope that this is a temporary detour for rilo kiley, or that they can continue to refine new sounds in a more inspired way, but despite how much i wanted to like this one, i just can't say that i did.
rilo kiley : "silver lining"
from the lp under the blacklight (warner bros, 2007)