Posted by: Johnny Loftus on August 31, 2007 at 3:00 pm

If bands were brands (and honestly, aren’t they a little bit?), indie rock would be populated with a pile of household names. Spoon, with their unfussy, weathered cool would be Levi’s. Devendra Banhart is very Anthropologie; he’s effeminate, eclectic and conspicuously bohemian. Yo La Tengo are classic, durable and taken for granted, much like Sears tools. And LA’s Rilo Kiley, with their stylishly sterile alternative rock and sculpted arrangements, all smooth surfaces and minimalist sheen, are the closest music comes to sounding like IKEA.

That Scandinavian furniture chain is in the cheap accoutrements business of helping people come by lifestyle easily. And on Under the Blacklight, their first for the big boys at Warner Bros., Rilo Kiley seem more eager than ever to be your next piece of plastic panache. Theirs is a sound custom-built for accessorizing.

For a record that distinguishes itself by not taking chances, Under the Blacklight opens promisingly with an update on Phil Spector’s classic big-backbeat intro before slithering into the Cardigans-lite of “Silver Lining.” Jenny Lewis does her best Sarah McLachlan, barely stifling a yodel on the notes she lets crack, and Blake Sennett tries to inject some invention into the mix’s Swiss clockwork precision with one of his typically playful, jittery guitar figures. It’s a good start, and approaches the muscular melancholy of Aimee Mann.

But it’s all pandering pop and affection-less genre-hopping from there on out. “15” is a Loretta Lynn tune without any of the country legend’s leathery life experience. “Breakin’ Up” is soul-starved Donna Summers, and “Moneymaker” is just obnoxious on so many levels, all of which have to do with trying to carve a hook out of horseshit. Sennett restores some dignity to things with the slinky, whispered “Dreamworld,” the only track on which he sings, and it sounds like it could be Calla or Broken Social Scene. Its cool-headed reserve arrives like a precious drop of dew in the arid hell of the album’s Top 40 gimmicks.

Under the Blacklight wants to be shamelessly pop, while slyly intelligent – to have huge-ass hooks with subversively edgy lyrics. And while that’s a worthy format to shoot for, the group doesn’t quite pull it off. Lewis’s lines make a stab at articulating the of-the-moment wit and mannerisms of the culture, but rarely do so with any insight or risk. When she sings, on “Smoke Detector,” “There is a girl in a tank top/she is not wearing a bra/she looks so hard on the dance floor/she does the smoke detector,” the words grab your attention. They achieve the desired yin to the tune’s bubbly yang. But they also sound more conspicuous and tacky than relevant. It doesn’t help that anchoring all this is a band afraid to intrude on Lewis’s prominent profile, as a result dealing out polite and risk-less arrangements that have been combed over and oiled into a smooth pompadour.

Rilo Kiley’s agenda has had a cloying, mainstream ambition to it all along and if you go back and listen to their 2001 debut Take Offs and Landings, you’ll see the ready-for-radio ideals buried beneath the heap of lo-fi – they were just masked by limited resources and a lack of confidence. Even 2004’s More Adventurous, which was Rilo Kiley at their most polished to date, lacked the confidence of this record’s spare mix, which makes texture subservient to the vanilla glories of Lewis’s voice. With Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley have officially become both stylish and utilitarian. They have become IKEA rock.

– Daniel Johnson

[tags]Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis, Under the Blacklight, IKEA[/tags]


No Responses to “New Record: Rilo Kiley, Under The Blacklight”

  1. Justin on September 4th, 2007 2:08 pm

    “Ikea Rock”! very interesting description. I don’t agree with it but its original. I think a lot of reviews of this disc are questioning Rilo Kiley’s motives because its on a major label, lets stick to reviewing the tunes and not try divine their intentions.

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