The transition from indie darling to major label players is never an easy one, and Rilo Kiley’s newest release Under the Blacklight shows a band struggle to diversify and increase its accessibility. Their last album, More Adventurous, was a terrific set of songs that read like their earlier release polished up with a bit of technical sheen. The band’s transformation for Under the Blacklight is greater, to the point where they seem almost unrecognizable.
Songs like “Silver Lining” and “Under the Blacklight” are classic Kiley, with melodies sweetly sung and lyrics beautifully strung. Country twangers “15” and “The Angels Hung Around” evoke Jenny Lewis’s gorgeous solo effort Rabbit Furcoat. The problems lie in their dalliances with disco, pop and funk with tracks like “The Moneymaker” and “Dreamworld.” Musically most of this stuff is danceable and fun, but feel unfinished and unsatisfying as the hooks repeat ad nauseum without any turns or surprises.
It’s a shame, because there is a lot to like on the record. The bands off-kilter efforts at world-beat in “Dejalo” and go-go psychedelia with “Smoke Detector” are surprisingly good. The out and out disco of “Breakin’ Up” has its own Bee-Gees appeal. But even those songs are betrayed by a lack of nuance or a conspicuously awful lyric.
Play Under the Blacklight in the background as you do your chores and it’s an appealing record. The beats are strong and the basslines groovy. It’s when you sit down for an in-depth read that it starts to feel a little empty compared to old Rilo Kiley records. The disappointment isn’t that it’s an awful, hateworthy album, but that the band seems capable of doing so much more.