[7 April 2013]
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. As should be expected, these cuts don’t provide the satisfaction of the proper studio albums, but they are good, even if their primary effect might be to produce mourning for a departed band.
The first third of the collection contains the disc’s strongest material, a surprising find since the first four cuts come from the Under the Blacklight sessions, meaning the group split with a fair chunk of a quality album abandoned (something Sennett had hinted at at the time). Furthermore, while the album marked the band’s greatest commercial success, it wasn’t their greatest artistic success. Hearing tracks like the restrained “Let Me Back In” or the assertive, should-have-been-a-single “It’ll Get You There” raises questions about how Under the Blacklight came to be, perhaps through song selection or aesthetic direction. At any rate, these first four cuts are as good as anything from the album from which they were cut.
Less successful, the Zondo/Too $hort reworking of “Dejalo” comes off as more of a novelty than anything and already sounds dated. “I Remember You”, featuring Benji Hughes, offers something in the way of an earworm but builds around a guitar hook that’s more annoying than catchy. These two are the sorts of tracks you expect in a mix of odds and ends.
Music from other sessions stand out, particularly “Bury, Bury, Bury Another” and “Well, You Left”. These recordings were intended from an unreleased EP. Produced by Mike Mogis, the countryish “Bury” and the Grandaddy-like “Well” must have come from the early 2000s and would have fit well as a complement to The Execution of All Things. The final unreleased song from this collection, an overworked demo of “Rest of My Life” from Take Offs and Landings should suit collectors but doesn’t carry much weight. The album version’s better, and “Well, You Left” provides new material in a similar vein.
The rest of the disc collects b-sides that are fine but were well-suited as b-sides. “About the Moon”, originally backing 2001’s “Science vs. Romance”, might be most noteworthy for having Lewis singing with the Watson Twins, with whom she’d record Rabbit Fur Coat a half decade later. “A Town Called Luckey” with Cursive’s Tim Kasher is the best of the b-sides. Its tense indie rock becomes increasingly apt as a b-side for “Portions for Foxes” after some though, despite some initial incongruity.
In total, RKives serves its purpose more than adequately. While plenty of the set is for collectors only, Rilo Kiley has provided a number of songs as strong as their previously released material. It’s likely only fans of the band will be seeking this out, but they should be surprised and satisfied. Of course, as happy as they’ll be with the new music, it’s good enough to remind them to be sad that this stuff might be it.