Monday, January 23rd, 2006
Science Vs Romance
Tomorrow sees the release of albums from both of Rilo Kiley’s principals – Jenny Lewis with her Watson Twins-powered Rabbit Fur Coat and Blake Sennett with Sun Sun Sun, the sophomore effort from his side-project, The Elected. While RK’s earlier albums featured a more even split in vocal duties, the balance has been shifting towards Lewis – their breakthrough More Adventurous featured just one Sennett lead vocal, and that track was generally acknowledged to be the low point of the album. It’s not that Sennett is a poor singer, he’s not – though his whispery Elliott Smith-ish tunes were rather generic and when you’ve got a voice like Lewis’ at your disposal, you’d be a damn fool to not utilize it as much as possible.
So accepting that reality, Sennett has The Elected as a vehicle for his vocal excursions, and it sounds pretty much like you’d expect. His voice is rather stronger than his Rilo Kiley work would have suggested but the songwriting is the same lightly twangy, classic pop style that brings home the bacon in his day job. It’s the sort of thing that would have worked fine on a Rilo Kiley disc (almost everything here is better than “Ripchord”) but left to stand on its own, it all feels a bit insubstantial. Devout RK fans will surely find enough here to make it worth adding to their collection and casual ones might be interested to know that Ms Lewis contributes backing vocals on a one song and lyrics on a couple others but this is all Sennett’s show.
On her first attempt at flying solo, Lewis pursues a distinctly country vibe, but rather than the sassy belting of More Adventurous’ “I Never”, Rabbit is more old-school country-gospel in flavour. While Lewis has a ways to go before she has the depth of life experiences to stand alongside Emmylou or Loretta, she still has a sharp lyrical pen and growing up as a child actor is good for some compelling songwriting inspiration, most notably on the (presumably) autobiographical title track which documents a strained mother-child star daughter relationship. The topic of Lewis’ childhood is a thread that runs through the whole album, which in spite of the lovely vocal work from Lewis and the Watsons and with the exception of the indie-star studded Traveling Wilbury’s cover “Handle With Care”, has a distinctly downbeat tone. It’s interesting to compare Sun Sun Sun to Rabbit Fur Coat, as while the former is hooky but slight, the latter is considerably weightier in subject matter and much less generous with instant gratification. One can’t help but wonder what sort of record might have emerged if the songwriting sessions for both had intertwined?
The Watson Twins are also taking full advantage of their association with Lewis’ album, releasing their debut EP Southern Manners this week as well. They will be touring with Lewis through the Spring, including a stop in Toronto at the Opera House on March 16. Might the Watson Twins sieze the opportunity to be their own opening act? Someone else will have to report on that, since I’m out of town that week. And anyone attending the show who hopes to hear some RK stuff will probably be disappointed, Lewis has already stated that she’s putting that stuff to bed for a while and is concentrating on road-testing the solo material.
There’s been plenty of Lewis-related press (and some Elected stuff, but not nearly as much), some of which I’ve linked already and some more I’ll link now – Between Thought & Expression has transcribed an interview between Lewis and American Way, The Independent, Los Angeles Times and Chart have pieces and The San Francisco Chronicle engages in some playful banter. Meanwhile, Seattle Weekly talks to Sennett.
All three acts have MySpace pages – Lewis, The Elected and The Watson Twins all have tracks up for preview, as well as the following officially sanctioned downloads – note that the Watson Twins ones are in M4A format.
MP3: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins – “Rise Up With Fists!”
MP3: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins – “Melt Your Heart”
MP3: The Elected – “Not Going Home”
M4A: The Watson Twins – “Friend And Foe”
M4A: The Watson Twins – “Darlin’ Song”
A few more shows announcements – The Violent Femmes are still around and apparently can still fill Massey Hall – or at least think they can. They’ll be in town on March 8 while The Gris Gris are at the considerably cozier and grungier Comfort Zone on April 8.
Broken Social Scene’s Charles Spearin worries aloud to JAM! that the Can-rock love-in bubble might burst soon. I wouldn’t expect that to be the case here at home, at least, if the enthusism over their two sold-out shows at the Kool Haus is any indication.
I finally got myself a Canon Digital Rebel XT last week and have spent the weekend learning how to use it – I’m very excited about this thing, the quality of photos coming out of it hurts my head. There’s a couple shots from it up in my Flickr photoblog, but I won’t get to really see what it can do until the Low show at Lee’s next week. Say it with me – “Clean ISO 400!” Ahhhh.
It’s official – The West Wing will be coming to an end on May 14. It’s for the best, and will be going out on a high note though anyone who believes the producers when they say that they haven’t decided whether Jimmy Smits or Alan Alda will win the election is smoking something. Alda hasn’t gotten one fraction of the screen time that Smits has, and hasn’t been portrayed very positively when he has. Unless they’re planning to handle John Spencer’s death by having Smits strangle him on national television, there’s no way they’re going with Hawkeye.
But even though I’d personally rather vote for Frank Burns’ corpse than any of our candidates, I’d like to remind and encourage Canadians out there to go out and vote today. Hold your nose if you have to.
And if you want to vote for something a little less repugnant (though just a little), I’m up for “Best Canadian Weblog” in the 2006 Bloggies for the third year running. I’m flattered for the nomination, but don’t expect the honours to go much beyond that. Getting cynical as the years go by? Maybe a little. That doesn’t mean I won’t still ask for your vote, the prize they’re offering of, oh, NOTHING, is mighty tempthing. And I’ll just say again that it’s absurd there’s no standalone music category – there is nothing in common between sites like those that populate most of my blogroll and the five gossip/T&A sites nominated for “Best Entertainment”. I don’t know what they hoped to accomplish by rolling them into one last year, but if it was to completely marginalize a huge portion of the blog world, well mission accomplished. I miss the good old days of me vs Moby.
np – Saturday Looks Good To Me / Every Night