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Triple Take: Rilo Kiley’s ‘More Adventurous’

If you were a moderately successful Indie Rock band in 2004, the future must have looked pretty damn bright. The explosive popularity of the first season of The OC had introduced the genre to a new generation of suburban kids. This, coupled with the commercial success of Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism was good enough, but when Garden State (and that film’s accompanying soundtrack) became a cultural phenomenon, it seemed like Indie Rock might actually be shifting the musical landscape in the same way Grunge had over a decade earlier.

It was into this most hospitable climate that Rilo Kiley released their third album, More Adventurous. Released just two weeks after Garden State, and with the help of Warner Bros. distribution, More Adventurous would indeed be the crossover hit the band was hoping for. While the whole album is good (though not nearly as good as The Execution Of All Things, which is easily their best album), let’s focus on tracks 3-5, as they are perfect examples of what was and wasn’t successful about one of the premiere Indie bands of the 00’s.

The third track on More Adventurous is “Portions For Foxes” which is not only the best song on this album, or the best song by Rilo Kiley, but one of the best songs of entire “mainstream indie” era. The song slowly ticks to life before exploding into a propulsive rock groove. While “Portions For Foxes” owes a heavy debt to The Strokes, and the rock revival sound they led, there is a twangy Midwestern aura to it that reminds the listener that Rilo Kiley are an Omaha band through and through. Jenny Lewis again proves what a capable Rock ‘n’ Roll front woman she is, singing about a toxic relationship, and warning her partner that she is “bad news” on the instantly unforgettable chorus. Portions For Foxes is, in many ways, the song that launched Rilo Kiley, and stands as a brilliant example of just how good this era of Indie Rock could be at it’s best.

From “Portions For Foxes” we downshift into “Ripchord” which runs in stark contrast to the preceding track, as it is indicative of one of the biggest problems this band had; their secondary vocalist/songwriter was kind of terrible. There is a long history of rock bands with secondary songwriters who brought down their bands overall catalog (looking at you, Tom Delong), but there may be no greater contrast than the one between Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett. Ripcord is an utterly forgettable song, a barely existent acoustic ditty that completely deflates the records momentum. Ultimately, “Ripcord” serves as a reminder of the fact that while Sennett has co-writing credit on some of the bands best work, he was a clear second fiddle to his former flame and writing partner, and his songs serve no purpose other than to derail Rilo Kiley’s otherwise solid discography.

After “Ripcord” comes “I Never,” a capital B ballad that was a huge risk upon release that has aged very well. In 2004 Indie Rock and R&B couldn’t have been further apart, and Rilo Kiley releasing a traditional ballad like this seemed almost blasphemous at the time. While the song seemed out of place in 2004, the fact is Jenny Lewis has a serious singing voice, so she is more than capable of pulling this sort of song off. In the intervening years, traditional R&B has seen a surge in popularity among the Indie set, and while it may ultimately be too traditional to really be groundbreaking, by doing something unexpected, and doing it quite well, Rilo Kiley predicted the PBR&B of Dirty Projectors and How To Dress Well by nearly a decade.

As everyone is now well aware, the Indie Boom of the mid-00’s was short lived. By 2008 The OC had limped to cancellation, Zach Braff’s The Last Kiss came and went with little notice, and Death Cab had released an album so bland they actually called it Plans. Meanwhile Rilo Kiley would follow up More Adventurous in 2007 with the corny, almost offensively bland Under The Black Light. While technically their most commercially successful record, even at the time Black Light felt like the limp work of a band that was ready to call it quits. Since then Jenny Lewis has maintained a solid solo career, while Blake Sennett has disappeared completely (go figure). Still, listening to More Adventurous now is a fun blast of nostalgia, a reminder of a time when everyone knew the record industry was failing, but before social media and streaming services completely upended the blueprint. There is plenty of great music being released today, but our current culture simply doesn’t allow for a scene to have a moment the way Midwestern Indie Rock did in 2004.

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