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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Rilo Kiley
Under the Blacklight
Warner Bros.

Rating: 9.4/10 ?

December 4, 2007
I gave it a few months just to make sure, but it still holds the title: Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley's fourth full-length album and first true major label one, is the most controversial album of the year. Does that weird you out? It shouldn't. Just another age-old story of a group that made their bread indie and turned the tables when Warners threw money, case closed, right? More than a few soured critics say Jenny Lewis reneged on the patented Graceful Maturity her solo disc promised. Alt bands that grow up are supposed to twang out, and if their ballads are affected well enough, one will go the "Maps" route and score some O.C. cash, while the group puckers up and feels bad about it. They were supposed to make Show Your Bones, Grave Dancer's Union, At My Age. Nope.

I'm not shy about my taste for contemporary pop - watch for Avril Lavigne and Maroon 5 on my year end, right next to Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem - and I know a sellout when I hear it. And this ain't it. Lewis and her ex-lover co-pilot Blake Sennett aren't dumb; they know Clear Channel has no place for a Gloria Estefan tribute or a Ronettes rip. Just ask the Pipettes. Radio also lacks a sense of humor about itself, so if you think they're being coy by titling the video song "The Moneymaker" and loading the video with porn actors, I'll do you one better: it's not coy, it's downright self-sabotaging. Under the Blacklight isn't just the record Rilo Kiley suddenly decided to make when Warners threw money at them, it's also their chance to make all the songs they might never be able to afford again.

Is it time we all just admit that bands who make it as far as the majors only cause tension once they get there because they just want to use as many horns and session soul singers while they have the privilege? Not exactly - some bands are dumb enough to actually think they're changing the world by adding an orchestra. And who's to tell, say, Rob Thomas, that he isn't? Dude's still a millionaire, he'll never know about the subculture of record snobs mocking him; probably has a butler to surf the net for him. That's not Rilo Kiley, who could turn back to earnest-indie in an eyelash, if the stylistic jumps here are any indication. If Blacklight proves anything, it's that they're perfectly willing to inhabit just about any situation that suits their fancy. It's bemused by its own excess, and that's also why Jenny Lewis decided to write the whole thing about sex.

From "I took a man back to my room/ I was smoking him in bed" to "My momma is an Athiest/ If I stay out late she don't get pissed," Lewis' gleeful obsession with the R-rated antics of her sinful hometown turns up all over. There are threesomes, porn stars, and 15-year-olds with "developing bodies" on this record. There's even a profoundly creepy utterance about being "doped and carried away" by the "dogs of L.A." None of these have very clear endings, and I'd like to know in particular if the 15-year-old made it home okay, but hopefully just knowing Lewis lived to tell the tales is enough assurance. Either way, the haters are certainly missing out on the perverse subversion of blowing major-label money on a pop record of the laughably outdated kind to sing about frightening sexcapades.

But guilt is for convicts, not pop listeners, and none of this explanation has to mean a thing, because every one of the eleven songs attached to Blacklight is a stunner in purely musical terms. From the joyful disco of "Breakin' Up" to the 60s brit-rock pastiche "Smoke Detector," the band tops themselves over and over, flipping through genres like a good Los Angeles band should: spoiled and coked.

And in that regard, the Eagles had nothing on a pair of unremarkable child actors who made their rock dreams a reality. Any indie cred they picked up along the way was merely circumstantial; a phase they outgrew; these are pop professionals. On this album Jenny Lewis sings better than ever and now turns an astonishing phrase - "he was deep like a graveyard," is a favorite - from time to time. Sennett has picked up ace arranging skills, pillaging his record collection with the gusto of a caffeinated Spectorian nut who just has to get a stray Latin-funk riff just right. The rhythm section is impressive for friends of Death Cab. I'm tempted to crown the endlessly fascinating and hooky product their best record. But for a fearless quartet of such frothing ability who betters their bests on a now-regular basis, I'll leave the option open for the next one.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss



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