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Rilo Kiley branches out, Grand Ole Party up-and-coming

The first thing that came to mind after listening to the band’s new album, Under the Blacklight, was: “What happened to Rilo Kiley?” The second listen, however, revealed lyrical intricacies and an exploration of styles that add richness to a polished, commercial new record.

“Silver Lining” leads off Under the Blacklight. It’s a definite departure from Rilo’s last album, More Adventurous of 2004. It begins with rhythmic handclapping, gentle piano and soft electric guitar – but that’s where the similarities to their past works end. Lead singer Jenny Lewis’s voice sounds more mature and her lyrics are less quirky than in previous songs.

What the album’s single, “The Moneymaker,” lacks in lyrics, it makes up for with a pulsating drumbeat and sexy guitar riffs. It doesn’t show off Lewis’s voice as much as Blacklight’s other songs, but it’s very different than anything in the band’s past three albums.

Under the Blacklight doesn’t have a gem like “Potions for Foxes” on More Adventurous, but it does have some standout songs. “Dreamworld” immediately evokes Fleetwood Mac. Faithful to its name, it has a dreamy, bluesy quality. It’s also the only song on the album with lead guitarist Blake Sennett singing lead vocals, making it even more distinctive.

The album’s title track has beautiful acoustic elements and shows off Lewis’ voice with moving and intelligent lyrics. “Even dead men/ Lie in their coffins,” Lewis sings. “It’s been a long time/ Since you felt better.”

Rilo Kiley stretched their boundaries making this album. It’s evident that they have explored and experimented in tracks like “15,” a Memphis soul-infused song about statutory rape, and “Breakin’ Up,” which has a cool ’70s disco vibe. Rilo adds eccentricity to it with a cowbell beat and backup vocals during the sunny chorus, “Ooh it feels good to be free.”

The experimentation does nothing but add to the album. Even “Dejalo,” a song with some of the weakest lyrics, is taken to a higher level by successfully employing an ’80s synth sound and adding funk through a Spanish chorus.

So, what’s happened to Rilo Kiley? They’ve changed their sound, that’s for sure.

Under the Blacklight is no Adventurous, the more cohesive of the two albums. However, Rilo Kiley came out with something fresh and unexpected rather than a mere rehash of old tunes, and fans can take stock in that.

The band Grand Ole Party is now in the same position that Rilo Kiley was in more than seven years ago: poised for greatness, but struggling to be heard. Opening for Rilo during their current tour has earned the band a modest following.

GOP has already made its debut album, Humanimals, produced by Sennett. The CD will not be released by indie label DH Records until January 2008.

Humanimals combines lead singer/drummer Kristin Gundred’s powerful voice and drum beats with guitarist John Paul Labno’s intricate strumming, balanced by Michael Krechnyak’s sturdy bass.

Commencing the album, “Look Out Young Son” is straightforward rock and the lyrics are unapologetically twisted, with lines like “Bastard child that I am/ Oh you can see it in my swagger/ In the palmist’s lines of my hands/ In my lips that bud like daggers.”

Gundred, Labno and Krechnyak are storytellers and every song on this album tells a different tale, from succumbing to temptation in “Bad, Bad Man,” to love lost in a sour relationship in “Redrum Heart” and drinking dark shadows away in “Belle Isle.”

The last two tracks slow the descent to the end. “Roll on Down” has a moody tone and a slower, steadier tempo that adds tension to each line. “Look oh how red seems to bleed into blue/ As the sun sinks to his grave,” Gundred sings, “And I fear, I fear I will sink to mine too/ Yes I fear I will sink to it soon.”

Sennett put additional instrumentation into the last track, “Radio!” This collaboration gives the song an extra dimension, making it one of the album’s standout tracks.

If you can’t wait until January to buy Humanimals, you can download the whole album from iTunes any time you so desire.