There’s no better indicator of the niche-oriented state of the post-Napster music industry than Me First, the debut record by the Elected.
It’s a record for people who like bands from Los Angeles (frontman Blake Sennett is a member of Los Angeles indie-rock band Rilo Kiley). It’s a record for people who like bands from Omaha (Rilo Kiley is on Saddle Creek, label mates Azure Ray guest on Me First and Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis handles some of the production duties for the Elected). It’s a record for people who like the laptop pop of Dntel and the Postal Service (Jimmy Tamborello of both projects here offers mixing and production to the Elected).
It’s also a record for people who like the old-fashioned Americana of M. Ward (Rilo Kiley backed him on tour, and album closer “British Columbia” could easily have appeared on his graceful The Transfiguration of Vincent O’Brien). And it’s a record for fans of Elliott Smith’s lush, melancholy pop, as the album was recorded in the late singer/songwriter’s home studio, and tracks like “A Time for Emily” incorporate his melodicism, harmonies, and confessional songwriting.
Those are the musical niches invoked by merely the names involved with Me First. The music itself presents an even more dizzying Venn diagram of genre-hopping: Sun-soaked ‘60s California pop meets Graham Parsons-style twang meets 21st-century electronic whimsy à la Four Tet, all filtered through trembling, Bright Eyes-style emo.
Based on the cover art, Me First is also a CD for people who like big golden pigs.
The Elected is like that Transformer that was made up of all the other Transformers (a quick Google search tells me that this Transformer was Devastator, and he was composed of the Constructicons—of course).
The band’s music is the kind of thing that makes perfect sense to a child playing with toys at a friend’s house: Take this robot/crane, add it to this robot/truck and this robot/tractor and they can form a bigger, better robot. Similarly, one can imagine Elected frontman Blake Sennett, also of Rilo Kiley, connecting the disparate elements of Me First while playing at a friend’s house: a little country, a little indie-pop ... a bigger, better genre. Call it “emo in disguise.”
What amazes about Me First is that it almost manages to live up to the sum of its ambitious parts.
Essentially a creative vehicle for Sennett, who cedes the limelight to vocalist Jenny Lewis in his main band, Rilo Kiley, Me First holds up next to Rilo Kiley’s best effort so far, the country-tinged indie-rock of 2002’s The Execution of All Things.
The ultra-specific songwriting has hits and misses—“7 September 2003”, a country-style tune about lost and regained love achieves realism in its attention to dates, while the songs conversing with the narrator’s mother eventually get wearisome. But the sound achieved by the album as a whole is a blueprint for a new, unrestrained approach to recording music, in which all genres can coexist. You’re almost surprised not to hear any hip-hop scratching on Me First.
Of course, when you put some distance (or age) between yourself and your childhood imaginings, a giant Transformer seems sort of silly. Me First is far more substantial than that, but it can’t shake the sense of being thrown together on a whim. The overall sonic experiment succeeds, but the songs never quite attain the level of some of the band’s influences. If you can overlook the occasional lyrical lapses—“C’mon Mom / I’m so scared”—and focus on the bittersweet beauty of songs like “Greetings in Braille” and “Don’t Blow It”, then this golden pig is for you.
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