Reviews

The Execution of All Things

Author: Christina Saraceno
10/01/2002 | Rollingstone.com | www.rollingstone.com | Album Review
California quartet Rilo Kiley is one of countless emerging bands placed in the slowcore, indie rock musical bins and on The Execution of All Things, their second full length LP, they make good on the title, deftly tearing down the labels that constrain them. Led by songwriters and vocalists Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett (though Lewis sings on all but two tracks) Rilo use the french horn, saxophone, vibraphone, pedal steel guitar, glockenspiel, orchestra bells, cello and violin to infuse their indie rock sound with doses of country, folk and Fifties pop. Through it all, Lewis wraps her poetics around angular melodies, and her clear, crystalline vocals carry the band's amalgamation of sounds and moods home to the listener.

On the acoustic swing of "With Arms Outstretched" Lewis lays down the ultimatum "If you want me/you better speak up/I won't wait" in an open-hearted timbre before labelmate and Bright Eyes/Desperacidos frontman Conor Oberst and the rest of the "boy choir," as they're credited, provide backing vocals and hand claps that turn the song into a front porch romp. Several musical spectrums away, "Spectacular View" is the album's most straightforward rock number and the most gloriously Californian. "There are no bad words/For the coast today," Lewis sings in the lightest of voices, before turning on a dime and spitting out her ode to the stars with an almost ferocious exuberance, "Indifferent but distanced perfectly/ projected endlessly/it's so fucking beautiful." The title track is a checklist of modern destruction. "Oh God, come quickly for the execution of all things/Let's start with the bears and the air and then mountains rivers and streams/Then we'll murder what matters to you and move on to your neighbors and kids," Lewis chirps in her girlish, ethereal voice that makes the band's brutal vision all the more startling.

Rilo's ability to retain the grit of indie rock while diffusing the genre's sometimes chilly irony with emotion is the band's greatest asset. On "The Good That Won't Come Out," Lewis' voice lifts and aches with realization as confronted with a truth she'd rather not admit, "You say I choose sadness/That it never once has chosen me," and then drops back down again with resignation as she deadpans, "Maybe you're right." But nowhere is Rilo's fragile heart more exposed than on "A Better Son/Daughter," where the keyboard and military march drum beat create a modern battle hymn as the singer spurs herself out of depression. "The lows are so extreme/that the good seems fucking cheap/And it teases you for weeks in its absence/But you'll fight and you'll make it through/You'll fake it if you have to," Lewis sings, pushing on to the final declaration, "you'll be happy."

From love to depression to forbearance, there's a ravaged spirit that runs through The Execution of All Things, and Rilo Kiley use all of the American soundscape to express it.