Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rilo Kiley, Quiet Company

Two posts on one day!? What gives? Well, unlike today's first post, neither of the releases profiled here is exactly brand new material. Since I heard about the impending arrival both of these collections – the rarities compilation RKives from Rilo Kiley and the re-recording of Quiet Company's debut Shine Honestly as A Dead Man On My Back: Shine Honestly Revisited, I felt that they belonged in a post together.

There will be a reprieve of a week, after which I'll return on June 11th with reviews of two very exciting releases: The Polyphonic Spree's Yes, It's True and Camera Obscura's Desire Lines!  

Rilo Kiley
New Release: RKives (pronounce it as "archives" - get it?!)
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Record Label: Little Record Company
Sounds Like: The Essex Green, Metric (NMT)
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

I sadly expect this will be the only time I'll be able to review Rilo Kiley in this space, as the group has been on a hiatus since 2007 and statements from several members of the quartet have indicated that its unlikely – although not impossible – that the band will ever re-form. That's a shame because regular readers of this blog will notice routine references to the LA-based outfit, and they've been one of my favorite acts over the past decade or so, along with The Decemberists (NMT, NMT), The New Pornographers (NMT) and Okkervil River (NMT), all of whom I came to later than I should have. Fortunately for my sake – and arguably yours – all but Rilo Kiley have continued to produce new material during that span.

Like many collections of B-sides, stand-alone tracks from soundtracks and other compilations as well as previously-unreleased (but not new) material, longtime listeners of Rilo Kiley will be able to observe distinct elements of tracks related to specific albums and periods in the band's career, from the jangly, quirky stuff of the early Take-Offs and Landings era in the early 2000s through the overly-popped and failing Under the Blacklight period. While I'm not as versed in the nuances of the group's ouevre as many fans, RKives does allow fans of all degrees of familiarity to appreciate how potential they were at their peak and hope for an ultimate reunion to explore new material in the future.

Come for: "Let Me Back In" (co-leaders Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett share their ode to the band's home of L.A. in a way defies conventional wisdom about the city's genuoisity)
Stay for: "It'll Get You There" (Lewis – who has the biggest voice in rock shy of Neko Case – really wails away here on this anthemic rocker that starts slow but finds its level before too long)
You'll be surprised by: "All the Drugs" (this track is notable in relation to the rest of the band's catalog as Lewis dials back the vocal power in the chorus, which is atypical for her; has a bit of Springsteenian flair with its big sound)
Solid efforts: "Running Around" (Lewis has a particular knack for skewering skievy middle-aged men [see "Does He Love You?" off 2004's More Adventurous], and does so again with aplomb); "Bury, Bury, Bury Another" (some observers over the years mistakenly labeled the group as alt-country; songs like this are why); "Well, You Left" (there's a reason why Lewis handled about 80% of lead vocal duties: Blake Sennett is a pretty meek vocalist; this sounds like just another wispy performance from Sennett at first [like "Three Hopeful Thoughts" or "August"], but he ultimately delivers one of his most forceful vocal takes; at the 3:53 mark, it even includes the trademark ascending three-note intro which has preceded other Rilo Kiley guitar solos in the past [look up the 2:03 mark of "Small Figures in a Vast Expanse" off Take-Offs and Landings]); "I Remember You" (Pierre de Reeder – who shared both guitar and bass duties with Sennett as well as Lewis [they changed instruments frequently, with Lewis and Sennett also contributing keyboard parts] – steps out for some time at the lead mic while playfully dueting with Lewis, and the band would have benefited from more of the smoky barritone lead part he fills here given Sennett's vocal limitations; of course, its pretty clear neither of those guys could hold a candle to Lewis); "A Town Called Luckey" (very dark, could even be softcore Metallica at the outset; Lewis returns to the mid-life crisis theme here, which may have been separated by many years in real life, so its hard to target her for lack of originality in relation to "Running Around" earlier, considering its a compilation); "Emotional" (this clearly sounds to be from the Take-Offs and Landings era, with the distinctive organ sounds they used then seeming to place this number adjacent to that record's "Always"); "Patiently" (a rare duet with Lewis and Sennett; loud and aggressive; sounds like something's amiss, though, with the recording quality); "About the Moon" (if Lewis had wanted to do honkey-tonk, country/blues stuff like this as a solo artist – a la Neko Case – she'd probably be doing well now but, sadly, she veered more towards the garbage stuff like "Dejalo" [see below]); "The Frug" (exactly the type of thing that should be on a B-sides collection, about a number of made-up dance routines ["the Robocop," "the Freddie," "the Smurf" as well as the title number]; extra points for "shuffle off to Buffalo")
Meh: "Draggin' Around" (Lewis has a number of fine bluesy ballads, but this one really never seems to get moving, although there are some nice little Joe Cocker-style gospel choir background vocals at a few points); "American Wife" (Lewis' lyrics and vocals are compelling, but there's a lot of instrumental filler that needlessly extend the track; nonetheless, the list that's outlined at the 3:00 mark ["you have eleven siblings, who've had ten broken limbs, nine divorces and eight broken hearts, And seven grandkids and six bypass surgeries, five college degrees, four are sick, three are well, two are dead, one's in jail"] might be one of the all-time best numerical lists in popular music, along with Okkervil River's "Plus Ones" and The Decemberists' "Sixteen Military Wives"); "Rest of My Life [Demo]" (barely counts because it was released in another form on Take-Offs and Landings)
Skip to next track: "Dejalo (Zondo Remix)" (Sennett has attributed the band's demise to greed and ego on numerous occasions; shit like this is what he meant; Lewis clearly wants to be a R&B/Rap/Pop star here and it proved fatal to the group)

Quiet Company (NMT)
New Release: A Dead Man On My Back: Shine Honestly Revisited
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Record Label: self-released
Sounds Like: Rooney, Eisley (NMT), Ben Folds (NMT, NMT)
Location: Austin, Texas

Love: the over-explored frontier. These are the voyages of the rock band, Quiet Company. Its continuing mission: to write and perform love songs that don't suck.

Such was the case on the band's 2006 debut, Shine Honestly and has continued through the course of the group's three subsequent collections of new material. The five-piece unit produces energetic indie rock glazed with catchy hooks all the while primarily focusing on love, relationships and intimacy. Their well-executed 2010 EP Songs for Staying In (NMT) was entirely directed towards intense romance. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity to review their 2011 LP, We Are All Where We Belong, which explored frontman's struggles with religion and faith through a metaphorical relationship.

Here, there's not any new lyrical explorations of concepts of love, but a chance for the group to display the evolution of its instrumental and vocal performance as well as improved production resources. The original album has been out-of-print and unavailable in non-digital formats for several years.

I wouldn't say the changes (which I'll note in the song-by-song recap below) are enough to warrant purchasing the revisited collection if you already own Shine Honestly, but if not, it's a good way to encounter the band's formative stages. Although the two additional tracks added at the end are enticing for a dedicated fan to add to their collection. Overall, the re-worked selections are slower and darker than their predecessors and Jeff Weathers' drumming is featured more prominently in the mix and is also more precisely recorded. 

Come for: "I Was Humming a New Song to Myself" (huge, sweeping ballad in the Radiohead tradition; guitar harmonies at the end – which were fine before – sound much cleaner here)
Stay for: "The Emasculated Man and the City That Swallowed Him" (the fullest measure of the band's talents and temperment; new recording sounds more Ben Foldsy in energy level and tight vocal harmonies, while little highlights like bells and percussion tools come across more brightly)
You'll be surprised by: "Circumstance" (perhaps the loudest and most brash in the group's entire portfolio and it remains so in the new version, but don't like the brief addition of trippy keyboards in the pre-chorus refrain – just keep it throttled up, boys! There also seems to be a new, quiet postlude which I don't care for. Sure, the original ended abruptly, but that's what made it distinctive from the rest of their material)
Solid efforts: "How Many Times Do You Want to Be in Love?" (initially very slow and Weathers' bass drum is at the forefront; transforms into a McCartney-esque super ballad); "Fashionable" (punchy and meaty at the same time; wafting organ part is more notably featured) "Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History" (decidedly slower and more deliberate than the original; some background vocals are more perceptible once the punchy beat picks up at the 1:17 mark and the organ is less whimsical than before while the cheery closing segment is less joyous and carefree); "Tie Your Monster Down" (largely faithful to the original with some better backing vocals and more prominent sleigh bells to supplement the laid-back rhythm track; this is the band's alt-country offering and its a nice compliment to their more common indie-rock tendencies); "...then Came a Sudden Validation" (the strings and horns orchestration that weaves around the bluesy piano part is crisper and more refined); "So Gracefully" (the starkness of lone acoustic guitar track on the album is fitting when surrounded by so much indie-pop sound; once again, more sleigh bell[!] than the initial version, but that's about the extent of the difference, which is fine); "We Change Lives" (there are so few 3/4 time signature waltzes in rock music, and this one grows more esquisite in the revisited version with muscular strings and renewed lead guitar parts; decidedly the most notable improvement from the original); "and You Said It Was Pretty Here" (fantastic unreleased track; upbeat and hard-charging road trip song; a welcome new addition);
Meh: "Love Is a Shotgun" (I've always been ambivalent about this one and the re-recorded version doesn't change my mind; I guess the piano part is slightly improved; lyrics change from "to the arms of a loving wife" to "to the arms of my loving wife"); "When You Pass Through the Waters" (the vocal harmonies are pretty, but there's not much else, whether its the new or old rendition)
Skip to next track: "I've Got a Lot of Problems With You People" (also not among my favorites from the 2006 edition – when it was called "Untitled" – and its no better or worse in 2013); "Gun Control Means Using Both Hands" (despite its wry, potentially-contraversial title, the second new, unreleased the track doesn't forray into politics, but instead is initially ambient and unfocused; it picks up a bit later, but there's not much new value added)

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