Release Date: May 17, 2011
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Do you remember when Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett dabbled with side project The Elected? Not really? Yeah, it’s been a while. Five years, in fact. But Sennett is back with a third Elected album, Bury Me in My Rings—an unexpected treat, considering the former child actor had earlier decided to swap songwriting for screenwriting. The summery relaxation of 2006’s Sun, Sun, Sun is still present on this new effort, but whereas Sun had an alt-country twang, Bury is informed by all sorts of ’70s California pop.
Unless you’re Jenny Lewis, being in Rilo Kiley is probably a bit like being one of the guys from Paramore -- forever stuck in the background, relegated to a sideman role due to the good looks and sheer charisma of the frontwoman. No one knows the story better than Blake Sennett. After sharing power with Lewis during Rilo Kiley’s early days, he gradually became part of the band’s all-male backdrop, often singing one song per album and letting Lewis croon the rest.
Although it’s never been documented as an official movement in music, the past few years have seen several country-influenced bands eschew their rustic overtones and twang for less jammy, more pop-oriented songs. Ryan Adams, Wilco, the list goes on. While Rilo Kiley was never considered a proper country band, or even a proper alternative country band, their earlier folk aesthetic had all but disappeared on 2007’s Under the Blacklight, a record filled with bouncing coke rock gems reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac.
What sucks about having a bandmate as genuinely talented, charismatic (and, yes, physically attractive) as Jenny Lewis, lead singer and co-songwriter of Rilo Kiley, is that when you step out for a side-project, it’s tough for listeners to not automatically be a little disappointed by the lack of star power. But that’s no slight to Blake Sennett, the former child star of shows like Boy Meets World and Nickelodeon classic Salute Your Shorts (Where you at, Nickheads?) who has been the co-brains behind Rilo Kiley, one of indie-rock’s finest and most reliable bands, since day one. It just means that, at first, his tunes with The Elected feel like they’re missing something.
Blake Sennett has earned the right to be grumpy. Over the course of the last decade, the Rilo Kiley songwriter/guitarist watched as the band that he co-founded with former girlfriend Jenny Lewis gradually turned into a star vehicle for the comely Lewis before dissolving acrimoniously. By the time the band released the vapid Fleetwood Mac homage Under the Blacklight in 2007, Sennett had been relegated to the role of sideman and his band bore little resemblance to the quirky indie pop project he’d started several years earlier.
Early retirement never works out and as we’ve seen time and time again with sports figures and celebrities, a surprised audience always accompanies the comeback. It’s like when your mom’s favorite character falls off a cliff in one of her soap operas and you hear shocking gasps coming from the living room when she realizes "Chaz" (or whoever) is still alive a year later. When Blake Sennett decided to take a hiatus last year, and called it “retirement”, there had to be muffled skepticism at the time, followed by faux astonishment when he decided to make another record.
Blake Sennett was all but a silent partner in Rilo Kiley's last two LPs, which suggests the title of his first solo bow as the Elected, Me First, was something of an in-joke. He previously explored advertently lush California sounds on 2006's Sun, Sun, Sun, but on his latest album, Bury Me in My Rings, Sennett has immersed himself in a definitively Golden State of mind. It's not what you think, however: Sennett riffs on Silver Lake ennui and Hollywood plasticity.
Review Summary: Blake Sennett in the pursuit of the perfect pop song, consequences be damned. It used to be that ignoring Blake Sennett’s integral role in Rilo Kiley was a grievous mistake. His buttery wisp of a tenor on songs like “Ripchord” and “Three Hopeful Thoughts” provided a nice counterpoint to Jenny Lewis’ West Coast twang, while his 2004 solo album Me First under the Elected moniker made it quite obvious that the songwriting team in Rilo Kiley wasn’t just Lewis and three faceless dudes.
With Blake Sennett fading further into the background on each successive Rilo Kiley album, his side project as frontman for the Elected is an opportunity for the poor guy to show off his talents. But the Elected’s third outing, Bury Me in My Rings, is a middling album that doesn’t consistently play to Sennett’s strengths. While the band’s previous record, Sun, Sun, Sun, was a pleasant and occasionally inspired set of summer pop, Bury Me in My Rings plays too fast and loose with its genre pastiches and is a scattershot affair as a result.