Laydeez and germs, I would like to announce the birth of a new sub-genre. And that genre’s name is…
Bit of a mouthful, I know, but I’m sure all the hipsters will soon contract it to something manageable like countrymosynth. Or something. And it’s the only way I can describe this album in terms of the smorgasbord of songwriting, arrangement and production it covers.
And like another Sub Pop band, The Postal Service, The Elected is a side project band. The main songwriter is Blake Sennett (I don’t know if he’s any relation to Mack) and his main band is Rilo Kiley. Though, if the same thing happens with them as happened with Death Cab and The Postal Service, main band may not be that accurate, at least in terms of popularity.
The songs here aren’t a million miles from Rilo Kiley’s winsome surburban angst. But they also take flight in grander, sunnier ways. Generally, the reviews of this album compare it to The Byrds and Parsons and I can see that but I also think there’s more than a touch of Jellyfish-era Jon Brion and early Ben Folds Five. Yep – it’s that poppy! Face it, if it was some “challenging” postrock masterpiece, devoid of melody, rhythm, lyrics and wit, would I be reviewing it?
This could be the first great pop album of 2004 (please don’t let it be the last). The songs on here are all attemting to connect, trying to get something over, whether that’s about brittle familial relationships, dates of conversations or just the shittiness of telephones.
What makes this album a notch better than others of it’s post-emo ilk is the framing. Mixed and produced by Sennett, Mike Mogis, Mike Bloom and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel, Figurine, The Postal Service) they sit in the now, rather than some imagined rural altcountry past. This only strengthens the songs by making them less fantasy and more hurtful. True, there’s not a huge amount of crackly, glitch-hop experimentation going on but the synthetic footprint is a key part of why I love this album.
As an example – ‘The Miles Til Home’ seems to be finished and then a lovely little acoustic ditty comes on. You start to relax and think ‘soothing coda’ till it’s ripped up in a papery bitcrunch fest that dovetails beautifully into ‘Go On,’ one of the strongest songs on the album:
“Would you do something for yourself, Mom
And get the hell out of your house,
Would you do something for your son, Mom
And stop taking all these pills”
Even though lyrically it’s not a bundle of laughs, the setting, with the swooping guitars and harmonies lift this song out of emo-by-numbers territory. Hell, what am I saying? This album has zero to do with all those baleful clones. This song soars, the chorus is huge and is human. But you don’t settle down and relax cos it does get glitched up occasionally, which ruins the suspension of disbelief. But makes the song better… Does this make Tamborello a Brechtian music producer?
This is an album you can lose yourself in. It’s a little world, entire and detailed, like another classic album, Even As We Speak’s ‘Feral Pop Frenzy.’ Sometimes the intimacy this hermetic shell provokes can be uncomfortable: I don’t know if I want to hear some of the thing’s Sennett sings. But it’s the mark of the artistry of this band that I don’t skip tracks or stop playing it. Or maybe it’s a mark of my voyeurism.
My fave so far is ‘Go On’ but there’s no filler on here. Nothing obvious to skip through, which immediately separates it from 90% of records out there. But then, why skip through a great pop record? Every single track reaches out and hooks you, in different, unpredictable ways. Bizarrely, the contrast between the summery music and wintery lyrics make for a timeless album. Wear this hat all year round.
Buy this album if you love hailstorms in summer, The Monkees, XTC, The Shins, Michael Nesmith, The Postal Service and pop songs about real life. But hey – don’t take my word for it, go to the Sub Pop page and have a listen for yourself
Don’t buy this album if you’re a beard-rubbing pedal-spotter who thinks pop is a dirty word.