Aug. 21 represented a direct facedown of two red-headed chanteuses: Neko Case and New Pornographers (with fellow male redhead A.C. Newman) released a new CD the same day as Jenny Lewis and her band Rilo Kiley. NPs gets bonus points for this Letterman appearance Aug. 20, and the new "Challengers" album has lots of luscious high harmonies. Jenny, meanwhile, has filled RK's new "Black Light" CD with references to porn, maybe a bow to New Pornographers? Haven't heard her new Rilo Kiley outing, though it will be hard to beat 2005's stunning "More Adventurous" CD. All right, Neko and Jenny, come out of your respective corners, but watch out for that veteran red-head chanteuse -- Tori Amos may take you both on. Great times for a lover of glamorous redheads, in any event.
AUG. 22 CONCLUSION
Memo: New Pornographers w/Neko Case competes in Aug. 21 CD release date for BestBuy display space with Rilo Kiley w/Jenny Lewis. New Porns gets the best TV attention with a Letterman appearance, Rilo Kiley gets best photo spread in Blender and Filter. But Jenny Lewis may be disqualified for appearing as a brunette. Meanwhile, Architecture in Helsinki wishes they could exploit the redhead trump card.
TAKEAWAY: OK, New Porns takes the award for most advances, with some careful caveats. In particular, Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley gets points for sheer audacity of style.
NEW PORNS - HEAVY THUMBS UP. I don't downgrade NPs' "Challengers" for being softer and folkier than "Twin Cinema," nor do I think it's a Carl Newman showcase. Hooks seem to be as plentiful in the new one as in the first three NP albums, and there's definitely some heavy Neko Case and Dan Bejar influence, and even some Kathryn Calder influence. Still, Carl is front and center on the vocals. It will take a couple more listens to decide my favorites, but it doesn't seem like the CD has any throwaway cuts. Now, I got the "Executive Edition" with B-sides, and the first two B-sides online sound a little throwaway, so maybe that's where the less-impressive songs ended up.
RILO KILEY -- THUMBS UP WITH AN ACQUIRED TASTE. Now, for Rilo Kiley's "Under the Black Light": Folks that don't like this CD were probably expecting a follow-on to 2005's "More Adventurous." Let's face it, that album had such complexity of lyrics and song arrangements, trying to outdo it directly would sound forced and strange. So Jenny and Blake didn't even try. Instead, this album sounds like an adoption of a variety of late-1970s styles, particularly disco and Fleetwood Mac, for a 21st century consciousness. Lyrics are not multi-dimensional ponderous in the "More Adventurous" style, if anything they're direct and simple and repetitive in classic 3-minute radio hooks. But this album is more adventurous in experimenting with styles, including vocal styles. Jenny tries these octave jumps in "Close Call," for example, that sound almost like yodeling. The song "15" sounds like country with Memphis horns thrown in, "Moneymaker" and a couple others are classic disco and funk, while the title track sounds like Aimee Mann or Susan Cowsill doing a Beatles-esque ballad. And as you've probably heard, Blake tries for a Fleetwood Mac sound in "Dream World." The end result is like a mini-version of "69 Love Songs", song styles are tried on like clothing. Some Rilo Kiley fans may rebel, but I think Jenny Lewis gets to become the female equivalent of Neil Young or David Bowie - shocking fans with conceptual style albums that sound nothing like the classic style.
And as far as 70s retro sounds go, Rilo Kiley is a lot more adventurous than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.