Six years after the release of its last album, Under the Blacklight, the now-defunct Rilo Kiley is back with the cleverly titled RKives, a 16-track collection of unreleased songs, B-sides and rarities.
RKives begins with the delightful “Let Me Back In,” a 4 ½-minute ode to the city of Los Angeles. With its beautifully melodic guitar playing and emotional lyrics, the song is vintage Rilo Kiley. Guitarist Blake Sennett scores the track with an acoustic six string, plucking the notes on his instrument with great care. Jenny Lewis, the group’s primary singer-songwriter, belts out her deferential words in an impeccable tenor. The track is further enhanced by an unpredictable tap dancing solo courtesy of Lewis and tasteful string accompaniment arranged by Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott.
Regrettably, the band is unable to sustain this high level of quality on a majority of the record’s other previously unreleased tunes. “It’ll Get You There” features an incredible anthemic chorus, but the song’s vague lyrics and pedestrian verses leave something to be desired. “Runnin’ Around” and “All the Drugs” — while arguably superior to a number of the songs that they were discarded for on Under the Blacklight — are decent enough, albeit unspectacular. The Mike Elizondo remix of “Dejalo,” featuring rapper Too Short, is merely a slight upgrade over the previously released version, which is another way of saying that it is only marginally less abhorrent. The exception to all this is “I Remember You,” a joyful duet between Lewis and Charlotte, N.C., musician Benji Hughes. The track boasts nostalgic, sentimental lyrics, catchy vocal melodies, an infectious chorus and stellar musicianship, particularly the interplay between the frenetic lead guitar line and the syncopated rhythm instruments.
The second half of RKives features several of Rilo Kiley’s finest B-sides. “Emotional,” an Execution of All Things-era track, is an upbeat power pop song brimming with the same urgency that pervaded the group’s 2002 album. “American Wife,” with its lo-fi vocal effect and melancholy lyrics, resembles an Execution song despite being recorded during the More Adventurous sessions in late 2003. “Patiently,” originally released as the B-side to the “It’s a Hit” single in 2004, is the band’s first proper Jenny-Blake duet since “Papillion,” from Rilo Kiley’s debut EP in 1999. The biggest failure of RKives, however, is arguably the omission of one of its preeminent non-album tracks: “Jenny, You’re Barely Alive,” from 2003’s Saddle Creek 50 compilation.
RKives is far from perfect. It hardly comprises Rilo Kiley’s best material. To be fair, though, it is a rarities compilation, and a bulk of the songs on the album remained unreleased until now for good reason. But while the beautifully curated record will never replace The Execution of All Thingsor More Adventurous as anyone’s favorite album, it is an essential addition to any Rilo Kiley fan’s collection and a pleasant enough collection of songs for even the most casual listener.