Reviews

The Execution of All Things

Author: Kelefa Sanneh
09/29/2002 | New York Times | Album Review
An Appealing Mix of Bitter and Sweet

Last year the Los Angeles-based band Rilo Kiley released an album called "Take Offs and Landings." The music was quiet and sketchy, and the singer, Jenny Lewis, sometimes sounded tentative (or even precious), but there was also and appealing undercurrent of bitterness - the group's style was all sweetness and blight.

On Tuesday, Rilo Kiley releases "The Execution of All Things" (Saddle Creek), an impressive follow-up. The new album is just as sweet, but it's more self-assured, more adventurous and much more appealing.

The biggest change is in Ms. Lewis, who has learned to wield her sugary voice as a weapon. When she signs, "I don't mind waiting if it takes a long, long time," it's a safe bet that she's already having second thoughts. And sure enough, the next lines aren't nearly so romantic: "I don't mind wasting the best years of our lives/I don't mind racing through our goodbyes." She emphasizes the last word, and then the song comes to an abrupt end.

This is Rilo Kiley's first album for Saddle Creek, the celebrated indie-rock label based in Omaha. (At one point, Ms. Lewis makes reference to her group's new affiliation: "We'll go to Omaha to work and exploit the booming music scene.") The producer Mike Mogis helps keep the songs brisk and spare, and the band adds a few musical surprises. "Hail to Whatever You Found in the Sunlight That Surrounds You" starts out as a gentle folk song and finishes with a staccato improvisation on electric guitar.

Most of the lyrics don't rhyme or scan, but Ms. Lewis finds inventive vocal lines to fit the catchy melodies. Sometimes her voice is nimble and conversational, and sometimes she stretches out words with falsetto. One of the album's last songs is "Spectacular Views," and although Ms. Lewis's voice matches the hard-charging chords, the words she's singing are more convoluted, and more ambiguous: "There are no bad words for the coast today, then you ask, 'What's a palisade?,' and if we're too late for happiness."