There’s some speculation as to how Rilo Kiley got its name, the most prominent being an explanation found in Performer Magazine that states that it’s from the tale of two football players named Ben Rilo and Stephen Kiley, exiled when they were found out to be gay, and who committed suicide in 1909 on railroad tracks outside their town after making love for the last time. As a tribute, the band adopted the name Rilo Kiley. As to whether this unfortunate story also played a role in anything Rilo Kiley might have done musically is up to interpretation, but their full length debut, Take-Offs & Landings
, seems to abide by the this sense of loss of hope, while sometimes embracing it in the same song. Sometimes, Jenny Lewis is just a stylish contradiction.
Now, this can easily be her downfall, but I’ll take it as a quirky personality trait that makes her music as well-rounded as it possibly can be; in Take-Offs & Landings
, she heralds the sense of escape while pulling down the very act of traveling, making for some disjointed claims of love and relationships. She begins the album with a simple country twang, ‘If you want to find yourself by traveling out west, or if you want to find somebody else that’s better, go ahead,’ and apathetic vocals. Lewis is a woman scorned, unapologetically unaffected by this road bump until she reaches a silent revelation by the middle act: ‘If you want to hold on to the first girl that you meet,’ she sings, before laying way to, ‘or if you want to want settle down and plant roses at my feet, go ahead, I wish you would,’ emphasizing a wavering ‘go ahead.' Or maybe she’s using oceans and waves as a metaphor to a deteriorating relationship as in ‘Wires and Waves,’ where there are “twelve hours, there’s a day” between the lovers, and well, sometimes “planes, they smash up in the sky.” This (translated through fierce vocals and Spektor-esque vocal quirks, microphone reverberation and all) could easily mean “there’s no saving this relationship now,” and Lewis, before finding her arms outstretched or realizing some are just portions for foxes, may have been a woman without hope. This sad revelation that drives Take-Offs & Landings
through its rocky country exterior, and it’s for better or worse. It makes for an easy listen, from the rocking chair musicality of ‘Science vs. Romance’ to the Belle and Sebastian throwback ‘August’, muted vocals and bopping vocals that match the calculated beats verbatim, but it all amounts to a rather apathetic listen. If Lewis cares little for her subject, why should we?
Sometimes it works. ‘Wires and Waves’ is a standout, a hurt Lewis breaking down in her own, fierce way, and ‘Plane Crash In C’ is a fiddling observation of another deteriorating relationship that isn’t always apparent as to what’s wrong. Maybe she’s playing it rather unaffected until a third act where she gets as angry as she was in ‘Wires,’ but Lewis is still a blooming lyricist that doesn’t pull punches when she needs to be blunt. In the pounding indie pop of ‘Always,’ the music bounds along formidable fashion while Lewis bites, “I should have known with a boy like you, your middle name is always ‘I'd always love you.’” Easily the most distinguishable and catchiest song on the album, Lewis channels The Cranberries in a telling way. And the album’s hidden track, ‘Salute My Shorts!’ (officially named ‘Spectacular Views’ but later changed for title complications to the name of the show guitar player and former child actor Blake Sennett appeared on) is the best song Sennett gives vocals on (he also takes over ‘Rest Of My Life’ and ‘Small Figures In A Vast Expanse’). Sounding like a sullen teenage boy while trying to overpower the acoustic as best he can while keeping within his pitch, Sennett comes off charming where he was merely an adequate replacement to Lewis in his other songs, the catchy ‘August’ aside. Still, most of the rest of the album makes for a charming, if flawed debut. Much of it seems thrown together, like ‘We’ll Never Sleep (God Knows We’ll Try)’ that feels rushed but gentle at best, while ‘Pictures of Success,’ while good and understated, is forgettable in lieu of ‘Wires and Waves,’ which precedes it. ‘Don’t Deconstruct’ fares the best, a pulsating, synthesized piano/trumpet/violin prone ode to change and what could come from it.
Apathetic Lewis aside, Take-Offs & Landings
still stands as a testament to the lyricist she can be, as hopeless as she seems to be. At best the music is catchy, sometimes fierce and articulately observant, but it fails to reach the visceral and emotional level of what they have achieved. Still, Take-Offs & Landings
is an auspicious debut and an easy listen, if decidedly less satisfactory because of it.