Friday Top 5: Rilo Kiley

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this band yet. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Jenny Lewis at all here actually. I need to catch up.

Rilo Kiley has been one of my favorite bands in recent years after my wife introduced me to their music following the release of 2004’s More Adventurous. I had been aware of them before that, but she became a fan first and then converted me.

Rilo Kiley was formed in L.A. in 1998 by former child actors Jenny Lewis (Troop Beverly Hills) and Blake Sennett (Salute Your Shorts). Over the course of the next decade Lewis and Sennett would prove that the move away from acting was a good one. The two would share “front man” duties for the band for much of their early work before the focus began to shift more toward Lewis.

For me, Jenny Lewis is Rilo Kiley. All five songs I list here today will feature her on lead vocals. I don’t dislike Blake Sennett… quite the opposite in fact. I just get so much more out of Lewis’ torchy lyrics and scorching vocals. Whatever IT is… she has it, and it sounds great. Even her two solo records (which I will have to revisit sometime soon) just have a certain sonic quality that I’m drawn back to again and again.

But let’s get to the music. Rilo Kiley have released four full length albums and one E.P. I’ll be drawing one song from each release for the Top 5 today.

Let’s start with the E.P. Initially issued in 1999 as a self titled release, the disc was re-worked and reissued in 2000, and again in 2001. For its third pressing, the disc carried the title Initial Friend. As you might expect, this album is not as cohesive as some of their later work. It does, however, give us an early glimpse into their sound and provide us with one of their catchiest songs to date.

(All versions of the Initial Friend E.P. seem to be out of print. The only copy I could find online was on craigslist, and the guy was asking $500 for it. The “buy album” link here goes to an amazon.com search for Rilo Kiley.)

Rilo Kiley: The Frug (Buy Album)

Rilo Kiley’s debut full length album Takeoffs and Landings was issued in 2001. Here, the band experiments with a vast array of sounds including sparse acoustic numbers and synthesized instrumental reprises. In the end, though, the album holds together quite nicely and that sense of experimentation that does not obscure the hooks that fill each song. “Plane Crash in C” plods along for a bit, propelled by a sparse arrangement and Lewis’ vocals before hitting the bridge. There, Lewis is wrapped in a blanket of horns and the song really catches fire.

Rilo Kiley: Plane Crash in C (Buy Album)

2002 saw the release of The Execution of All Things. As you might expect from the title of the album, some of the songs on this release deal with some dark issues, including the divorce of Lewis’ parents. The lyrics, however, are counterpointed with the bouncy, hook laden sound that was by then becoming Rilo Kiley’s calling card. The title track illustrates this perfectly. As you listen to all of these songs, pay close attention to the guitar work of Blake Sennett. My wife argues that his playing is as important to the band’s sound as Jenny Lewis’ vocals. She’s right.

Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things (Buy Album)

More Adventurous came in 2004 and was the band’s big commercial breakthrough, it was also the album that got me hooked, and the reason I decided to force myself to choose one song from each of their releases for this post. Otherwise, there may well be five tracks from this album in my Top 5. It would be easy for me to go with “It’s a Hit” here. That was the lead single and the song that sucked me in. Instead… here’s one called “Portions for Foxes.” It gets the nod for the palpable sexual energy that oozes through the whole track… especially in Jenny Lewis’ shouted command to her paramour roughly 1:50 into the song.

Rilo Kiley: Portions for Foxes (Buy Album)

Rilo Kiley’s latest effort, 2007’s Under the Blacklight, takes the muse for its lyrics from the underbelly of Los Angeles. The songs take us to nite clubs, sex clubs, and behind the curtains of the adult film industry. The song I want to feature here, however, is one of the lighter tunes on the album. “Breakin’ Up” is a fun faux-disco dancer that makes me want to strap on a pair of skates and head down to the local roller-disco (if any still existed). It’s a bit of a departure for the band, and may be a bit too bubbly for some. I just find it extremely fun.

Rilo Kiley: Breakin’ Up (Buy Album)

3 Responses to “Friday Top 5: Rilo Kiley”

  1. Rilo Kiley is one of those bands I can’t seem to get into, but I did love Jenny Lewis’ record with the Watson Twins and I LOVE Acid Tongue! I still laugh when I see pics of Blake, thinking of him in Salute Your Shorts.

  2. I love Take Offs and Landings which I think outshines more recent efforts, although I still haven’t dipped into the solo stuff, but I imagine it is all fun.

  3. Nat: I also love Jenny’s solo work and am hopefull working up a post on Acid Tongue.Cps: Takeoffs probably ranks second for me behind More Adventurous. Had a hard time picking a track from that one too.

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