Rilo Kiley, Rkives, Little Record Company
In 2010, Los Angeles cult sensation Rilo Kiley decided to go on hiatus indefinitely. This was three years after the band released Under the Blacklight, their last studio album. It’s been a long time coming but fans might finally be placated by RKives, a compilation 16 tracks of rare and unreleased material.
RKives introduces itself to listeners with the single ‘Let Me Back In‘ , previously known as ‘I Love L.A.’ when the band performed it live. The track is a love song to the city but also works as an allegory for the breakup of the band itself, opening with the lines: “Let it be printed, let it be known/I’m leaving you, I’m going home/And all you can do/Is just watch me go”.
It starts slow and strong but picks up halfway through as the melodic strains of Jenny Lewis’ vocals are joined by drums and a cacophony of hand-clapping. Another quasi breakup song is ‘Well, You Left’ on track six of the record; Blake Sennett is brilliant on vocals, seemingly channeling the ghost of Elliott Smith.
For the most part, the whole album has a slightly twee, country-folk feel. ‘Bury, Bury, Bury Another’ wouldn’t be out of place on some of Bright Eyes‘ albums – which isn’t a surprise, as the band had an album out on Saddle Creek during its glory days. ‘It’ll Get You There’ is the second track and arguably the best song of the album, evoking the alt-rock sound of Yeah Yeah Yeahs as the lyrics detail all the things that will “get you there” – including little white pills, hostages and breaking hearts. Sennett’s guitar solo works nicely before the hushed bridge of the song, but the drum-work from Jason Boesel holds the track together.
Pessimists might suggest that this is an album composed of rejects from previous records, and it’s true that the tracks aren’t all gold dust. RKives hits a bittersweet note. It’s not exactly mediocre, but it certainly doesn’t have the same kind of personality, angst or cleverness that Rilo Kiley fans might be accustomed to. There are a couple of failures on the album. ‘Runnin’ Around’ has some cute turns of phrase, but while catchy, there’s not a lot of substance to it. ‘American Wife’ sounds like a voice crackling through a telephone as Lewis sings lyrics that are both apathetic and oddly patriotic. The song is redeemed by the closing refrain “no one escapes their life”, showcasing the kind of ennui these guys built their career on.
The remix of ‘Dejalo’ featuring rapper Too $hort includes an odd attempt by Lewis to make a contribution to hip-hop hall of fame. It sounds a little Gwen Stefani-eque but ultimately falls flat and feels alien to the band’s established sound. Experimental doesn’t necessarily mean bad when it comes to the singer though – ‘Emotional’ is a very literal song and some screeching on Lewis’ behalf doesn’t fail to impress.
Running just over an hour, RKives stands as the poignant prologue to a collaboration which spanned over a decade. Dedicated fans will be glad the band decides to go through the vaults – but while they might feel like this endeavour is just for them it might be more of a catharsis for the band members themselves.
RKives is out 6 May.