If security is a kind of death, as Tennessee Williams wrote, then Rilo Kiley are doing their damndest to elude mortality. They have spent their young career going all over the place - literally, metaphorically, thematically, and emotionally - in an almost obsessive fight against predictability and stagnation.
"More Adventurous" is the brand new Rilo Kiley album, and it is - from the very first minute - simultaneously bold and understated, bombastic and intimate, and tragic and triumphant - an 11 track tribute to instability as a virtue. It's an album full of uplifting songs of heartbreak, traditional pop from the future, country music from the city, and all other manner of oxymoronic perfection -- RK's stock in trade over the course of their bright lifetime as a band.
After the release of their last album, "The Execution of All Things" (which got raves from sources as diverse as the smallest cut 'n' paste 'zines, to the Village Voice, to the New York Times, who called it "impressive" and "self-assured"), the band crisscrossed the country on a series of several far-reaching headlining tours (including one where the band pulled double-duty as the backing band for Merge Records troubadour M Ward). When the tours ended, side projects kicked in: Jenny Lewis sang on the The Postal Service album and toured with them; Drummer Jason Boesel recorded with Bright Eyes; and guitarist/singer Blake Sennett recorded, released, and toured behind his solo album under the name The Elected (on Sub Pop). But where many bands would then stop to take a breather, or at least let the events of the last couple years soak in, RK instead decided to kick things UP a notch. They started to work on a new album, with one clear goal in mind: This disc would be their best album yet.
The songwriting began simply enough, from the hushed and lightly picked acoustic guitars on "The Absence of God," where Lewis offers some of her most insightfully fierce lyrics yet ("And I say there's trouble / when everything is fine / the need to destroy things / creeps up on me every time," she sings, giving in); to the punchy new wave sheen of "Portions for Foxes." The rhythm section of drummer Jason Boesel and bassist Pierre de Reeder anchored the songs with carefully assigned gravity for the new material's often expansive and soaring melodies.
They went back into the studio with an array of hot producers, including Saddle Creek mainstay Mike Mogis, Dntel/Postal Service genius Jimmy Tamborello, Beachwood Sparks/All-Nite Radio's Dave Sher, and Mark Trombino (who cut his teeth on legendary records by Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt, and then oversaw Jimmy Eat World's massive breakthrough). String arrangements, by Bright Eyes' Nate Walcott, were incorporated. "This is definitely the album where we were finally able to truly understand how to use the studio," explains Blake. "There's a lot more going on in all the songs; moments where these little subtle details rise to the surface." It's these flourishes - Jenny making the "salt shaker" noise in "It's A Hit" to reference the deployment of troops into battle; or the cracked A.M.-radio production hiss of "Rip Chord" - that back up Blake's claim.
On the album's title track, Jenny Lewis sings "and it's only doubts that we're counting on fingers broken long ago / I read that with every broken heart we should become more adventurous," and it's clear that with this record, the band have continued to be driven by the fierce independence that has brought them on such a sweeping journey over the course of their career - from the self-released e.p. and album that was then picked up by Barsuk Records, to being welcomed into the Saddle Creek Records family for their last full-length, to deciding that it would be appropriate to do something new for this album. As another challenge, Rilo Kiley decided to release the new album themselves. They founded their own label and called it "Brute/Beaute Records" -- (fitting, considering RK's propensity for unlikely combinations) - and then secured major label distribution for the imprint. The band is set to tour all over the country in support of the record.
The great irony of Rilo Kiley is that as they begin to become better known - they are now one of the true constants in indie rock, dependable and confident, and selling out shows all over the country - it would seem that their songs are becoming more and more personal. Listeners can't help but believe that Rilo Kiley is singing just for them, but the fact is that the world at large could use these songs right now. In these unstable times of love and war, with countless miserable personal and political histories threatening to repeat themselves every day, we could all benefit from Rilo Kiley's charge to lead by example and live a life more adventurous.