The Sound Of Music
Rilo Kiley are the ultimate indie band. Being from LA they are ultra-savvy when it comes to dealings with the media machine. So the reputation goes. As their song 'Pictures of success' puts it "They say California is a recipe for a black hole and I say - I got my best shoes on, ready to go". As in all generalities, there are elements of truth but these can easily be drowned out by the cheap shot, the glib remark.
Rilo Kiley formed in California in 1996 and have three albums to their name to date - Take Offs And Landings (2001), The Execution Of All Things (2002) and More Adventurous (2004). Lead singer Jenny Lewis started out as a child actress before giving it up in 2001 to concentrate on the band, which probably explains why their albums only started to appear about that time. Rilo Kiley don't explain the origin of their name as it adds to their mystique, or rather they offer a variety of conflicting sources for the name, none of which really matter to anybody but a true obsessive.
The band have a soft listenable sound, musical and well crafted like The Monkees on valium, ballads with an occasional alt-country tinge. Some of their songs are so introspective they are reluctant to come off the CD and play on the stereo. Unsurprisingly, Rilo Kiley have a large fanbase of teenage girls who wear charity-shop clothes & too much mascara and shoe-gazing boys who would like to meet more people like mascara-girl, or indeed any girls.
Given that I'm not exactly "home with the downies" (as Bernard Black once put it between slurps of wine), how did this band come to my attention? Strangely enough, because of introspective teen television show The O.C. - For readers old enough to remember Peter Gallaher persuading Andie McDowell to talk filthy to him in Sex, Lies & Videotape, I should explain that The O.C. is an immensely popular TV show about the pain and angst of growing up rich and bored in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. It's like Neighbours with better weather - no, it's like Neighbours with less annoying accents - no that's not right either; it's like Neighbours with more money. It's also what Peter Gallaher does to pay the rent these days.
I've never actually managed to watch an episode of The O.C., but I did once buy a Music From The O.C. Mix 4 CD. I just saw it on the shelves at Music City in Dun Laoghaire and (despite its provenance) made an impulse purchase. I still think it's one of the best compilation CDs I own - a lot of the artists are fairly obscure but becoming less so (such as indie darlings Sufjan Stevens and Imogen Heap) or remain so hopelessly obscure that they may feature in these very pages one day (Anybody fancy a piece on Norwegian trip-hop band Flunk? I have two of their albums already - I'm not making empty threats here!). Bizarrely it also features a track by local Dublin boys Bell X1, which even more strangely is the only song of theirs I've ever liked. Still, I digress.
Anyways, the CD contained a bonus track called 'Portions For Foxes' by Rilo Kiley and like a number of other bands introduced by the CD, I found myself eyeing up their offerings in Music City soon thereafter. I even went on to buy a solo album by Jenny Lewis called Rabbit Fur Coat. Whereas the Rilo Kiley albums have alt.country leanings, this solo album gives full vent to these tendencies, being a co-operation with Nashville's The Watson Twins (wisely pictured on the cover with Ms. Lewis and who may have formed some part in my purchasing decision).
I have to confess at this stage that I don't believe Rilo Kiley's reputation as über-indie kings is fully deserved. The first two albums are pleasant enough but sopoforific in too many places. Great background music for a dinner party, but hardly the stuff to fill stadia with.
More Adventurous is a different animal however. ‘Portions For Foxes’ is a classic pop song and will readily provide the soundtrack to any happy summer event where you manage to hook up romantically with mascara-girl or indie-boy. After hearing it a couple of times, it’ll lodge in your head forever. You’ll find yourself humming it at idle moments. You’ll find yourself yelling “C’mere!” at old flames then collapsing helplessly in giggles.
To get to it on the album however, you have to pass the real serpent in the garden: track two: ‘Does He Love You?’ Whereas other songs have moments of poetic insight, this song is a poignant lyrical masterpiece. It builds slowly, lacking the pop immediacy of ‘Portions For Foxes’, but ending with grander sweeping string arrangements.
The lyrics take the form of letters exchanged between two girl friends reflecting on the different paths their lives have taken since their childhood days together – one has moved out to California for the warm weather and is continuing to evade adult responsibility by conducting a long-distance affair with a married visiting businessman:
I guess it's spring, I didn't know- It's always seventy-five with no melting snow
A married man, he visits me.
I receive his letters in the mail twice a week and I think he loves me.
And when he leaves her, he's coming out to California.
The other friend has gone down the suburban route of marriage with some guy, a house in the suburbs and pregnancy:
I guess it all worked out, there's a ring on your finger and the baby's due out
You share a place by the park and run a shop for antiques downtown
And then it all goes horribly wrong as Fate catches up:
Late at night, I get the phone
You're at the shop sobbing all alone
Your confession it's coming out
You only married him because you felt your time was running out
But now you love him, and your baby.
At last you are complete.
But he's distant, and you found him
On the phone pleading, saying, 'Baby I love you'
And I'll leave her and I'm coming out to California…"
A true bitter masterpiece.