Kiley vs. Kiley
Whoever decided to release the two separate side projects from the principals singer-songwriters of Rilo Kiley, Blake Sennett and Jenny Lewis on the same day has a good sense of humor. Or perhaps a genius for music marketing -- because we sure ended up, like many I suspect, buying them both. (Though, come to think of it, they were released by different labels, so the Master Plan of it seems less likely.)
The current Amazon ranking for the two albums is in line with their volume of comparative media coverage which is in line with what you'd expect: the super-cute Rilo front-woman and Postal Service back-up singer Jenny Lewis's Rabbit Fur Coat is ranked #48. The short, oddly-mustached guitarist and sometimes singer Blake's Sun, Sun, Sun (by his band The Elected) is ranked #502.
The first time I saw Rilo Kiley (opening for The Breeders back in 2002), I was hooked. And naturally, Jenny Lewis is one of the main reasons. She seems approachable, attainable even. She reminds you of the weird redheaded girl with the hippie parents you liked in fourth grade but no one else did and you felt oddly proud of discovering this diamond in the rough. But then you did nothing and a few years later the other boys suddenly noticed her and she ended up going out with that asshole from the soccer team Darren Peckner, the rich prick.
You know, for example.
We walked down the aisle to a Jenny Lewis song, my wife and I. So clearly her album, with the creepy The Shining cover, would be my favorite of the two. Blake, with his breathy sad underdog voice, (sort of a less interesting Elliott Smith), and his lyrics that always sound like a thinly veiled plea for Jenny to get back together him, would be listened to a few times but eventually shelved somewhere between Earlimart and Eminem (who would totally beat his ass just for the fuck of it).
Well, a few days after cracking open both, I've listened to the Jenny Lewis CD once. The Elected, ten times.
This is not to say that I won't eventually become obsessed with Rabbit Fur Coat, but aside from the fantastic "Handle Me With Care" cover and the kind of, I hate to say it, annoying title song, nothing has made an impression yet. The arrangements are fine and her songwriting, as always, is immediate and approachable, with just the right balance between the pedestrian-ly poetic and the profane, but so far I'm not blown away. (Although, to be fair, each Rilo Kiley album has kind of disappointed me on first listen, and eventually become beloved, so.)
Sun, Sun, Sun, however, is a weird, rapturous, yearning album that show just how integral Blake is to Rilo Kiley, even more than his guitar prowess and two-or-three-songs-an-album would lead one to believe. The music is a completely cohesive but nevertheless unexpected mixture of big band horns, twangy country guitars, infectiously jangling "Sesame Street" piano, gorgeous '50's soap commercial girl-group "Mr. Sandman" harmonies, all held together by Blake's little boy voice. Even when he allows himself to really belt it out, he sounds like a little kid trying to sound like a grown up, which lends a poignancy to the lyrics that a, well, a good singer wouldn't.
Here's the best way I can describe the album:
Sun, Sun, Sun by The Elected sounds like the hidden thoughts of the semi-silent and much put-upon sidekick of a dashing bank robber. His lyrics are the poetry the handsome bank robber never new his little buddy had in him, until the little guy was killed by a policeman's bullet in that botched One Last Job the little guy had "a bad feeling about" but the bank robber insisted they do so they could finally get out and have a life.
INT. MOTEL – NIGHT
The bank robber sits in a shitty motel waiting for the heat to die down, raging inside. He reads the diary his little buddy's handed to him just before he died, a bandage on his upper arm, clutching a bottle of Old Granddad. A woman in a black negligee holds his muscled shoulder and pets his troubled head.
The bank robber tells his girl that he never knew his little buddy had so much feeling in him, and that he'll never forgive himself for insisting they do that one last job. And the woman, a redheaded singer he picked up a few nights earlier at some dusty roadhouse where she was singing old Laura Nyro songs, tries desperately to assuage his guilt by kissing away his tears, and the bank robber ends up fucking her hard on top of the money, the sidekick's diary eventually being bounced off the bed by their passion where it lands on the floor in that little space between the bed and the wall, where they will forget it after ducking out in the middle of the night.
The next morning the diary is discovered and thrown away by the housekeeper. Along with the whiskey bottle and a single false eyelash.