For a band that got so much lyrical mileage out of attempts to reignite dead sparks, it’s an impressive show of willpower (or maybe just financial solvency) that Rilo Kiley demonstrates no willingness to reunite. In the Era of the Indefinite Hiatus, Jason Boesel, Pierre de Reeder, Jenny Lewis, and Blake Sennett stand nearly alone in that regard. Maybe that will change if Lewis’ upcoming road trip with The Postal Service inspires some nostalgia, but interview statements describing reunited bands in zombie-movie terms don’t bode well for a 2014 tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of Rilo Kiley’s breakout release, More Adventurous. The quartet is on good enough terms to comb through its vaults and assemble the new rarities collection RKives, but the bold-yet-calculated Under The Blacklight remains the final word from one of the 2000s’ great shoulda-been-bigger acts.
In 2007, Rilo Kiley handed in its thrift-store threads for a major-label-funded Golden Age of Hollywood-via-the-Sunset Strip look. The limelight and the Blacklight didn’t suit the band, though, and the B-sides, outtakes, and demos of RKives make that evident. Removed from the high-stakes, everything-to-lose game that spelled the group’s doom, songs like “It’ll Get You There” and “I Remember You” sound better for whatever scruffiness kept them off Rilo Kiley’s four full-lengths. Meanwhile, steps outside the group’s comfort zone—the sound-collage-folk of “American Wife,” an experiment with jagged post-hardcore textures on “A Town Called Luckey”—pose less of a risk of alienating the faithful. RKives begins and ends as a “fans only” endeavor, but the compilation provides an essential supplement to the Rilo Kiley discography. After all, if the band were in the position to leave the two-stepping lament “Bury, Bury, Bury Another” on the shelf, it only reflects more positively on the songs that made the cut.
Spanning the group’s decade-long career, RKives operates like a shadow greatest-hits comp, its tracks at times recalling the soaring indie-pop chug of “Portions For Foxes” (“Patiently,” “All The Drugs”) or the emotional powder keg of “A Better Son/Daughter.” (“American Wife” is like a follow-up phone call from that Execution Of All Things highlight.) At least one track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first solo effort by frontwoman Jenny Lewis, Rabbit Fur Coat: “Draggin’ Around” is the sort of Lewis-led country-soul number made to pour from a dive-bar jukebox. One legitimate greatest hit closes out the whole affair: “The Frug,” a hand-clapping game of hard-to-get that ping-ponged across peer-to-peer networks in the early ’00s, thanks to a headlining slot on the soundtrack to the half-remembered 1998 indie Desert Blue.
As a postmortem document, RKives is adept at cataloging the pet themes that haunted the band’s lyrics—and endeared it to a certain subset of floppy-haired music consumers. To paraphrase the refrain of “A Town Called Luckey,” they’re all quarter-life-crisis-type things: unluckiness in love, post-grad ennui, and landscapes flitting by car windows. The third of those quantities highlights a curious contradiction about the band: In spite of Lewis and Sennett’s kiddie-actor past and Rilo Kiley’s Silver Lake roots, the band did its best work when it wasn’t singing about California. Opener “Let Me Back In” eventually yearns for palm trees and sunshine, but the travelogue Lewis spins in the opening measures makes for the better song.
The compilation re-establishes the dominance of Lewis’ voice—a coo that transforms into a mighty and effective roar in the blink of an eye—over the Rilo Kiley sound. But RKives’ condensed portrait of the band’s timeline provides a clearer view of what all four of the band’s members brought to the table, particularly Sennett. His two lead vocal turns here—“Well, You Left” and a demo for Take Offs And Landings’ “Rest Of My Life” that sounds like the intro to a lost B-side by The Unicorns—burnish Sennett’s reputation as the more hangdog of the members in the band’s broken hearts’ club. More revelatory is the fretwork he shows off on RKives, wringing further drama from “It’ll Get You There” with a one-note solo and getting “Runnin’ Around” back in touch with its slicked-down stadium-rock antecedents.
The big-haired pomp of “Runnin’ Around” isn’t the best look Lewis, Sennett, de Reeder, and Boesel tried on during their decade of operation. Still, it hangs on the band better than Under The Blacklight’s “Wordy Rappinghood” impression, “Dejalo,” heard on RKives as a remix featuring West Coast rap godhead and Lewis’ professed hip-hop idol, Too $hort. The MC born Todd Shaw handily outpaces his disciple, but even with his contributions, “Dejalo” remains RKives’ only out-and-out skippable track. Its inclusion on the comp’s tracklist hinges entirely on the novelty of the Too $hort verse, but given the quality of most everything else on RKives, surely there was another “Emotional” sitting on the shelves, waiting to tide fans over until the band reneges on its anti-reunion stance.