The Always Evolving, All Too Brief Life Of Rilo Kiley

08.02.16 8 months ago

At the end of July of 2001, 15 years ago this week, Rilo Kiley released their debut album, Take Offs and Landings. When the band debuted, the most notable thing about them was the acting pasts of two members of the band, Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett. Lewis had been in movies such as Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard. Sennett played Pinsky, the cool guy who replaced Michael on Salute Your Shorts and squirmy bully Joey “The Rat” Epstein on Boy Meets World. They were just beginning as musicians, at least professionally. By the time the band broke up a decade later, they had put together a tremendous, if too brief, output.

To be fair, the beloved, critically adored Rilo Kiley releases didn’t really start at the beginning. Take Offs and Landings, plus the band’s self-titled EP released in 1999 that would be tweaked and tweaked until it came out as The Initial Friend in 2001, don’t immediately jump off the page. Take Offs and Landings featured a few songs sung by Sennett, which would not be a common occurrence going forward — possibly a reason why he’d later establish his band The Elected. With all due respect to the band’s other members, and they were all vital to the group, there is a reason Lewis has become a major musical figure with a few excellent solo albums to her name. Her voice is incredible, capable of engaging the listener whether she is singing softly or belting out big, forceful vocals. Showcasing her, and a little tweak to their sound, would really help take Rilo Kiley to the next level, the level we fondly remember them on.

Rilo Kiley’s next two albums, 2002’s The Execution of All Things and 2004’s More Adventurous, are both masterpieces. It’s just a matter of trying to delineate which masterpiece is the best album the band ever recorded. We will start, with a hat tip to chronology, with The Execution of All Things. The band moved to Saddle Creek, Conor Oberst’s record label, for this album, and the band’s sound grew into something much deeper and richer. The vocals were richer and more varied, and the instrumentation grew more daring, even including some sampling. This was when we realized what this band was capable of.

The album is loaded with good songs, it’s not quite all killer, no filler, but it’s close, with several stand out tracks. When “A Better Son/Daughter” kicks into a higher gear, with Lewis stretching her voice to its limits, if you aren’t viscerally grabbed by the song something inside, you may very well be dead. The song is optimistic and pessimistic in equal measures, but it’s just so high energy it leaves you vibrating regardless. And “With Arms Outstretched” is such a great song that, when used in the television show Weeds, it could convince you momentarily that Weeds isn’t a terrible show. It’s one of the best driving songs of all time. It’s beautiful. Again, those are but two of the highlights, albeit the two brightest highlights, in what is a truly great album.

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