Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Record label: Little Record Company
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop
"I'm leaving you/I'm goin' home" sings Jenny Lewis on "Let Me Back In," a kiss off with tap-dance percussion that doubles as love song to Los Angeles, and triples as a belated farewell to a band that was putting post-Elliott Smith L.A. indie-pop on the map back when Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino was still a New York magazine intern. It's a sad farewell, as this mostly filler-free set of outtakes, demos and b-sides reconfirms.
Though not quite the 40-song suitcase hinted at after Rilo Kiley “broke up” a few years ago, RKives is a solid 16-track collection of unreleased and B-sides material. While the pop sound doesn’t feel as dated as the years since Rilo Kiley’s 2007 final album would indicate, it nestles comfortably within the band’s body of work. Perhaps of greatest interest to fans disappointed when the group fell apart, RKives manages to showcase the hooks and emphatic vocals that helped the band find a wider audience at one time; a somewhat random but enjoyable and welcome compilation.
Fourteen years after the celebrated Los Angeles group Rilo Kiley self-released their first EP and five years since their last full album, bassist Pierre de Reeder is releasing RKives, a collection of unreleased songs, B-sides, and rarities on his own record label. From Barsuk to Saddle Creek to Warner Bros., the band found itself at the vanguard of indie rock culture in the aughts, and dealing with all of the conflicts of breaking into mainstream culture. .
I forgot how versatile Jenny Lewis can be with her voice. Sure, she kept putting out records after Rilo Kiley's polarizing final full-length, Under the Blacklight, but they all felt like genre exercises. Touring through Rilo Kiley's tunes means jumping from indie to folk to classic rock. Lewis could coo and shout, build up and burn, all on a whim.
It would be an understatement to say that Rilo Kiley’s split was a messy affair. After a series of well-received albums (including More Adventurous, a contender for album of the ’00s), their 2007 release Under The Blacklight was both their most commercially successful and their most divisive. Many of their long-term fans absolutely hated its polished AOR take on the band’s country-rock; certainly it sounded somewhat contrived to bring the mainstream success which had largely eluded them previously.
A few weeks ago I read about the Strokes’ video to their single ‘All the Time’ on Stereogum, a reel of clips that takes in video shoots, stints on the road and general hanging out from throughout the band’s career, and how it serves to remind the viewer of their chemistry, friendship and the clear affection they hold for each other. Being part of a internationally touring, successful indie-rock band can’t be fun and games all the time, but archival videos like this one (and this one and this one) are as insightful for fans as they must be heartening for their subjects. They illustrate the collective nature of the enterprise; that the feeling this particular group of people generate led to something larger and more exhilarating than they could have imagined.
There was a time not so long ago when social-media platforms didn’t track their members’ every move and stow the information in a steel lock-box for all of eternity. The proto-blog platform Livejournal, for instance, is a ghost town today. Try to revisit a deleted past life there and you’ll likely be confronted with a crying goat informing you that the account, and all of its entries, have been capital-P purged.
It’s been six years since the Rilo Kiley’s last album (although the official band break-up came a while later, with the group at its career peak, having released its first major-label album, Under the Blacklight on Warner Bros.). Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett continued to put out other quality music, but none of it could quite match the highs of the Rilo Kiley albums. Now RKives shows up with sixteen rare or unreleased recordings.
Rilo Kiley quietly unraveled, leaving behind a fair amount of unfinished business, much of which is rounded up on 2013's Rkives. Released six years after the slick splash of their major-label debut Under the Blacklight, Rkives rounds up existing rarities -- several B-sides and demos -- and six unheard songs, plus a remix featuring Too $hort. That is the most radical shift in sound on Rkives, but there are hints of the glitzy bombast of Blacklight scattered throughout the collection, particularly on the giddy Motown bounce of "I Remember You" and streamlined pop pulse of "Emotional," but most of this is firmly within Rilo Kiley's wheelhouse of moody, indie-stylized country-rock.
Let’s not front — it’s been a long six years since Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley’s last release as a cohesive musical unit. I can’t speak for every fan, but in my own personal trajectory, I’ve gone from a shy college freshman with an undeclared major and too many pairs of ripped Vans sneakers, playing “Silver Lining” on a loop while holed up in the library, to a (mostly) functional adult woman who even gets out on the weekends. When the band announced that they were splitting up in 2011, after 13 years, I was distracted by other things; a burgeoning love for more experimental bands like Dirty Projectors, for one thing, but also a sense that maybe it was just time.
Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett met in L.A. in the 1990s and started recording music together in 1998. They shared a history of being child actors—Lewis face-palmed and then kissed Fred Savage in The Wizard, while Sennett played that little punk Joey The Rat on Boy Meets World—and sometimes I think I see traces of this experience in their music: There was a lot of darkness in the songs, a lot of timid sadness, but like any good kid movie or TV show, there was always at least a fleck of childlike optimism shining through the curtains.I found Rilo Kiley through the band’s sophomore album, The Execution Of All Things.
Rilo Kiley’s RKives acts as a sort of conclusion to the career of a band whose break up never really felt definitive (and luckily, whose members are all still making music). But instead of the obvious “greatest hits” disc, RKives is something more substantial: a collection of B-sides and rarities that subtly tell the band’s story; the musical equivalent of going through old photo albums. A carefully curated yet ragged group of leftovers both offbeat and expected, RKives is for fans who feel like we know Jenny, Blake, Pierre, and Jason (and even Dave).
Rilo Kiley’s split, back when guitarist Blake Sennett finally confirmed it in July 2011, surely didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. His working relationship with Jenny Lewis, perhaps inevitably, had collapsed under the weight of the failure of its romantic counterpart; he cited “deception, disloyalty and greed” as key factors for the band’s demise. If, indeed, he really did feel as bitter as his comments suggested, you could probably understand why; his and Lewis’ post-Kiley careers have certainly followed markedly different trajectories to this point.
The gentle opener to Rilo Kiley’s compilation of near misses finds Jenny Lewis cooing ‘I’m leaving you… for the palm trees which bow their heads. ’ And when Rilo Kiley went major label and released ‘Under The Blacklight’, it did seem for a brief, sunny interval that this was the dysfunctional rock outfit to shed their relative outsider tags and embrace the golden vistas of the mainstream. But it didn’t work and we’re left with ‘Rkives’ as a post-mortem.