Rilo Kiley is back, and in a big way. After a three year hiatus, the indie rock wunderkind of the twenty-first century is back with a new album, Under the Blacklight, and it rocks. Though technically, with this release Rilo Kiley can no longer be called “indie rock” as the new album is being released by a major label, Warner Bros. Records. Indeed, both in distribution and sound, Under the Blacklight shows a clear smoothness and polish of production that the resources of a major label can provide. It also shows a quite noticeable departure from the band’s previous ethos.
Part of Rilo Kiley’s rise to prominence in the indie rock circles was due to their ability to blend pop, rock and folk/country elements into a pleasant low-key package. While I have enjoyed that aspect of the band’s oeuvre, for my tastes, they’re at their best when they put the rock into overdrive (Spectacular Views!). And fortunately for my tastes, Rilo Kiley’s evolution has shown a steady increase of rock.
Where earlier albums were markedly complicated, emotionally dense and intricately constructed, Blacklight is straightforward, blunt and to a certain degree, shallow. But it’s just so damn addictive, like candy or a drug. The band has real talent and while the record is certainly not their greatest artistic statement, they do pull off straightforward, blunt and shallow *well*. Jenny’s engaging vocals and Blake’s smashing guitar melodies power a pure rock delight.
After reading some of the early commentary on the web, fans seem to have had decidedly mixed reactions to this new and revised Rilo Kiley, with criticisms largely consisting of predictable accusations of “selling out.” But here at tunequest, I couldn’t be happier. And it was some kind of most divine providence that the album dropped just as the Atlanta Heat Wave of 2007™ was breaking, providing improved conditions for windows-down, volume-up driving. Under the Blacklight is more than up to fulfilling that role. In fact, cruising down I-85 last Friday, I couldn’t help but nudge the volume up steadily after each song.
I’ve been digesting this album for nearly three weeks and man, it just keeps burrowing deeper and deeper. I can hardly close my eyes without hearing a riff, refrain or lyric.
One of the more compelling aspects of Under the Blacklight is its unabashed and forthright sexuality: Close Call is about prostitution; The Moneymaker is about pornography; Dejalo appears to be about being straight-up slutty; 15 is about unbeknownst and unwitting cyber-pedophilia; Smoke Detector is about hooking up on the nightclub scene. Indeed, the album’s recurring themes seem to highlight society’s darker, sordid aspects (ie, things that are revealed when illuminated by a blacklight).
Dejalo, where the band does their best calypso-infused Blondie impression, also turns out to be Blacklight’s weakest spot. It breaks flow and it breaks style and is somewhat hard to listen to. Otherwise, I have few complaints about the album.
I have the feeling Under the Blacklight will be shining in my library for a long time to come.
Silver Lining (probably my favorite):
Jenny and Blake dated for a number of years, so it’s tempting to read that history into this song and video. But, some have speculated that it might be about Jenny’s relationship to the rest of the band following her increasing success and notoriety as a solo artist.
Further reading: RK gets the cover story for 9/2007 issue of Spin.