Rilo Kiley, Under The Blacklight (2007)

Before Jenny Lewis seemed to be conquering the world as a solo artist (or at least that's how it feels, and I hope it's true), there was Rilo Kiley, which had four very fine releases (plus various odds and ends) as an Americana/folk-tinged indie pop band.

I take it there is some backlash towards Under the Blacklight, their final proper album, which wholeheartedly embraced a mainstream-friendly pop sheen.  And yes, most of my favorite Rilo Kiley tunes ("Portions for Foxes," "Spectacular Views," "Pictures of Success") are found on their earlier albums, and I'm probably a little more likely to be found spinning one of those CD's than this one.  But dammit, this is one fine piece of work, and while a couple tracks may be a little too slick for my liking, for the most part the band went out on a high, with quality songwriting and well-honed musical and vocal performances.  If it flirts with being overtly commercial, why complain if the songs are great?

The album starts strong, both "Silver Lining" and "Close Call" self-assured, catchy, and just completely owned by Lewis. After that, you get a few tracks which, yes, do seem to cross the line into excessive almost-danceable pop slickness, at least for me; but the band comes back down to earth with the title track, a lovely down-tempo ballad.  A few of my favorites songs here are backloaded -- the more upbeat "Smoke Detector," a sleek, sexy tune that's a bit more playful than much of the album, most of which lingers in the bittersweet aftermath of a difficult date; and the jangly, country-ish "The Angels Hung Around," a bit of a throwback to some of their earlier work.

Overall, I tend to distill the Rilo Kiley catalog into one near-perfect mixtape, as each album has some outstanding tracks and a few that don't do it for me, and this is no exception; but this one still strikes me as the sort of thing I would imagine being a chart-topping monster in a sane world, with all that entails.

Here's the "Silver Lining" video:
 ...and "Close Call" in a live-on-tv performance:
Here's a live take on "Smoke Detector," and damn if Jenny Lewis doesn't have the universe in the palm of her hand: