Aural Pleasure

There’s been aconsiderable buzz building over the last several weeks about Rilo Kiley’s fourth album, but most of the discussion has found old fans carping that Under the Blacklight is the LA underground-pop band’s “sellout album.”

The charge that the album’s slick surface is proof of a new-found commercial shamelessness would be persuasive, except for two things: This record has the textural feel of one of those mid-’70s Hollywood pop albums with interchangeable studio players, and if you want to get on contemporary pop radio, you could probably find a surer shot than sounding like Yvonne Elliman or Nicolette Larson. Last time I checked, Timbaland wasn’t sampling any of those mega-crunk Russ Kunkel beats; secondly, this sound is hardly a departure for Rilo Kiley. They’ve always walked a fine line, with smoothed-out surfaces that dance on the brink of blandness, but usually manage to skirt it.

In the past, what’s made Rilo Kiley pop-
subersive rather than pop-bland is Jenny Lewis’s penchant for pungent social commentary and graphic turns of phrase, always delivered with the most soft, angelic croon. That element isn’t missing here, but it’s certainly in unusually short supply. The album’s biggest stinker, the rote, funk exercise “The Moneymaker,” hints at big-city decadence, but delivers nothing other than cheap sexual tease and three minutes of fish-hook-to-the-brain tedium. As the album’s first single, it set expectations for the album staggeringly low, and is largely responsible for the gag-reflex response of the alt-music blogosphere.

Aside from the embarrassing “Dejalo” (Lewis, like Edie Brickell, should be forever banned from singing in Spanish) and a couple of tracks that sort of lay there, however, the rest of the album builds with each listen. “Breakin’ Up” is inspired space-disco, with Lewis using a bad phone connection as a metaphor for a fizzling relationship, and “Smoke Detector” is a clever, giddy piece of Merseybeat jangle. On the Stax-lite soul of “15,” she paints perfect character sketches with offhand observations like these: “He was deep like a graveyard/ wide like TV.”

It doesn’t add up to the breakthrough album that fans might have anticipated from this talented band, but it’s hardly the pandering disaster suggested by its few miscues.

— Gilbert Garcia

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Ornette Coleman may have started the free jazz thing circa 1960, but trumpeter Don Cherry was the Johnny Appleseed of Ornetteology, sharing and extending Coleman’s ideas on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, he worked with such peers as John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Steve Lacy. In Europe, he gathered younger, less-known players such as those heard here: Gato Barbieri, Karl Berger, Aldo Romano and Bo Stief.

Cherry’s debut as a leader was Complete Communion, a revelatory record then as now. On paper, its key innovation sounds trite: Cherry figured that musicians could channel the extemporaneous energies of free jazz through suites and medleys. In practice, it meant musicians could stretch out without fear of stretching the material thin; the music is action-packed in a new way. And on this live date, recorded in Copenhagen some time during the year following the Communion sessions, the music is even more exciting; there’s the sense that the musicians are as surprised by where things go next as you are (for instance, with a seemingly out-of-the-blue excursion into “A Taste of Honey,” of all things). Saxophonist Barbieri, who had been part of the Communion session, is fiery and abrasive; the whole group is animated and assertive, although Cherry is clearly the trickster leader, keeping all on their toes.

Cherry, as many fans know, continued his Johnny Appleseed thing across Europe and into Africa and Asia, becoming a sort of world music pioneer. That’s another story — and who knows what tapes of those other adventures await discovery?

— W. Kim Heron

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Ian Moore is a Texas native who established his name as a blues guitarist on the Austin scene. But he didn’t discover his songwriting muse until after relocating to the Northwest, a move that greatly expanded his sound in unexpected ways.

Moore’s music now sounds like what might happen if the latter days of Talk Talk and their austere, nearly immobile ambient pop somehow took a dunk at an alt-country fair. His previous album, Luminaria, was a perfectly balanced watershed of talent. His new one, To Be Loved, chases its tail a bit more, breaking toward smarmier pop territory with the awkward shuffle of the title track, the grandiose electricity and anthemic determination of “Innocent Maneuvers,” and generally too much earnest energy throughout. The contemplative awe of Luminaria finally resurfaces in the slow gait of “Simple Girl,” where Moore stops waving frantically to be noticed and allows the listener to come to him. But here it’s the odd moment out.

— Rob O’Connor

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