Sunday, December 23, 2007

Album Review: Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight (4.5 / 5)

Rilo Kiley is a Los Angeles-based band that's grown steadily from its independent label roots to a mainstream major label rock band. Such an evolution usually draws ire from a group's early adopters, while picking up many more fans along the way. Since I'm in the latter category, no such ire from me, only adoration for this fantastic album, the band's fourth.

Breezy country-leaning "Silver Lining" opens the set like a breath of fresh air, swaggering onto the scene with twangy guitars, piano chords, and sharp percussion. It doesn't hurt that lead vocalist Jenny Lewis has a great voice too, and she sounds great throughout the album. Her combination of smoothness, restraint and heft reminds me a bit of Liz Phair, with a little folksy Sheryl Crow. "Close Call" contrasts the easy living feel of "Silver Lining" with a darker rock vibe, reminiscent of the early '90s. "The Moneymaker" also has a dark vibe, but an older rock strut.

Cutesy "Breakin' Up" is laced with electronic flourishes, similar to much of the songs from their second album, The Execution of All Things, although to my ear its '80s sound recalls Gwen Stefani's solo work more than the band's prior stuff. Closing track "Give a Little Love" has a similar sound.

"Under the Black Light" also opens with a dose of synths, but quickly shifts in a guitar-driven mid-tempo format. It's a richly melodic track and a definite highlight.

Critics have compared Under the Blacklight to Fleetwood Mac. Since I'm not familiar with them beyond the major hits, I won't go too far into that (my partner, who was a Fleetwood Mac fan in the '80s agrees the comparison is apt). I'm willing to bet that the atmospheric and plodding "Dreamworld" may be case in point, sounding somewhat like "Dreams" (certainly the title might indicate a connection). Lead guitarist Blake Sennett joins Lewis on this track, another winner.

The album sags slightly in the second half. "Dejalo" is an odd disco-funk number with a little Spanish thrown in. Countryish "15" about the loss of teen virginity is a little over the top and the horns come on a bit too strong. Thankfully these are short songs.

Things pick up again with upbeat, old school "The Smoke Detector," whose scratchy guitars and '70s swank sound like this could have played in that Pulp Fiction diner (can't you see John Travolta and Uma Thurman grooving to this?). Upbeat, twangy "The Angels Hung Around" is good too.

Mostly upbeat, but with some dark tracks too, Under the Blacklight has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a varied sound crossing elements of rock, country and dance from the '70s to today. At under 40 minutes, it's a fun, compact set.

Best: Silver Lining, Under the Black Light, Close Call, Dreamworld, Give a Little Love, Breakin' Up

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