Saturday, December 16, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1698: Rilo Kiley

My weekend got off to a lovely start, with some drinks out with friends, followed by board games with Sheila and some late night telly. Board game nights are also a chance for me to introduce any newly purchased music into the house, and with busy schedules all around I’ve been gathering quite a backlog. We listened to five new albums last night, and there’s still at least another five to go. Yeehaw!

This album was not one of them – the random rolling pulled it from the stacks, because that’s how this process works. Random!

Disc 1698 is…Self-Titled

Artist: Rilo Kiley

Year of Release: 1999

What’s up with the Cover? No idea. A close up of a face off circle in a hockey rink? A mathematician’s idea of what going to the beach should look like?

How I Came To Know It: I wasn’t aware this album existed, and have lived most of my life believing that 2001’s Takeoffs and Landings (reviewed back at Disc 86) was Rilo Kiley’s first record. This is easy to understand, given their Wikipedia entry says it is, and makes no reference of this record. It wasn’t until I read an article on Pitchfork revisiting their “debut” album (re-released in 2020) that I learned something had come before.

I then discovered the re-release did not include a CD (shame!). Given it was originally released in the heyday of the compact disc, this seemed terribly wrong, but I would not be denied. I downloaded it digitally from Bandcamp and made the album myself thereafter, right down to the jewel case art. I will not be denied my preferred physical media!

How It Stacks Up: With this surprise addition, I now have six Rilo Kiley albums. I like them all, and competition is fierce. Despite that, Rilo Kiley’s debut lands in third, displacing the nearly as good “More Adventurous” (Disc 1214) in the process.

Rating: 4 stars

When Sheila and I first discovered Rilo Kiley we played the hell out of all the records we could get our hands on. In the end we overplayed them, and while it was a crime driven by love, it has meant in recent years I have passed them over a fair bit.

This made the discovery of their 1999 debut album all the sweeter, because it did two things. First, it gave me a clutch of new (to me) songs to enjoy, and secondly, it reminded me why I overplayed them in the first place - because they are awesome.

Rilo Kiley is what pop music sounds like when in the hands of master songwriters. Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett have been writing most innovative and inspiring pop tunes for over twenty years now, and this record confirms that they hit the ground running.

Things start with the infectious “The Frug,” a song for dancing, and about dancing. Yes, there’s a bit of spice in the lyrics that hint at jealousy and the difficulties of love, but with a 2:40 running time, there ain’t much room for anything but the dancing, and that will be just fine with you.

The Frug” is a ridiculous amount of fun. Just setting down to write about it had me fall down a Youtube dance video well for the last 30 minutes. If you are wondering, (as I once did) what a “frug” is, it is a dance, and the internet is festooned with fun interpretations of it. There’s the classic Bob Fosse routine from the movie Sweet Charity, this short bit of awesome from an Indian film I do not pretend to know, and even this highly stylized Bob Fosse tip of the hat danced to Portugal.The Man’s “Feel it Still”.

The song also references three other dances (“The Robocop”, “The Freddie”, and “The Smurf”) all of which are also a joy to discover, although not as fun as the frug.

Rilo Kiley can also get serious. “85” explores infidelity and while the song has a sugary meandering melody, it is wrapped around the real hurt that humans can cause one another.

There is mature quality to a lot of the tunes on this record that hearken back to earlier eras in pop music history. “Teenage Lovesong” is an old school sixties crooner, and “Gravity” is a belter of a seventies style country tune. Both tunes feature Lewis’ brilliant storytelling talents. On “Teenage Lovesong” a groupie gets taken advantage of by an old famous person. Narratively it forms a great bookend to the much creepier “15” off of their 2007 release “Under the Blacklight”. “Gravity” also hints at disturbed relationships, although beyond some vignettes of violence on the side of the highway, the listener is left to fill in the blanks.

There is an earlier version of “Always” (also on “Takeoffs and Landings”) which has some questionable production decisions they cleaned up in the two years that would follow, but this is a minor issue on a record that was a wonderful experience of a band I thought I knew and loved, but now know and love even better.

Best tracks: The Frug, Papillon, 85, Teenage Lovesong, Gravity

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