Although it’s never been documented as an official movement in music, the past few years have seen several country-influenced bands eschew their rustic overtones and twang for less jammy, more pop-oriented songs. Ryan Adams, Wilco, the list goes on. While Rilo Kiley was never considered a proper country band, or even a proper alternative country band, their earlier folk aesthetic had all but disappeared on 2007’s Under the Blacklight, a record filled with bouncing coke rock gems reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. It only makes sense that Blake Sennett’s indie pop outfit The Elected would go the same route (several members of Rilo Kiley often play in the band, including drummer Jason Boesel), and that’s exactly what they’ve done on their latest and greatest album. Gone is the tumble-weeding ambition of 2006’s Sun, Sun, Sun, replaced by peppy upstroke guitar, crisp harmonies, and tropical flourishes such as steel drum and ukulele (particularly evocative on latter half cuts “Trip Round The World” and “See The Light”). The Elected’s pop sensibilities are in full throttle for 42 minutes of glistening ’70s AM bliss that never sacrifice the thoughtful melancholia that has always characterized Sennett’s lyrics.
“Born To Love You” starts things off with that very sentiment. “I was born to love you/love you, and I would love you even if you were someone new,” Sennett proclaims in his crystalline tenor amidst a swirl of twinkling xylophone and snapping cymbal. It’s a declarative, yet uncomplicated statement that avoids being melodramatic, even at the song’s end where the listener discovers that his love is unrequited. “I was born to love you/love you, and I will love you until you love me too” is what we’re left with. Such dark, yet realistic turns tend to elevate Sennett’s words above the level of cloying fluff, landing somewhere between the catchy simplicity of The Turtles and the introspective weight of Jackson Browne.
The juxtaposition plays out beautifully on the dub tinged kiss-off “Go For The Throat” and especially “Jailbird”, where Sennett yearns for an incarcerated lover. Lines like “Jailbird, jailbird, and it ain’t black and white. She’s innocent as peppermint/to this I’ll testify” are both sad and sweet, made all the more infectious by plunking piano and creaky acoustic guitar. Other highlights include the dipping bass and exuberant stutter of first single “Babyface” and the chugging R&B crescendo of “Have You Been Cheated”. But the album’s finest moment arrives in closer “Time Is Coming”, an introspective acceptance of change and, eventually, death. The lyrics both shun and welcome the inevitable nature of the clock, acknowledging its destructive power as well as its healing properties. In between ominous jabs (“God isn’t on your side/You ain’t even on his mind”), Sennett asks a loved one if she’ll hold him, once again driving home the theme of simple love amidst grim circumstances. Surrounded by gentle strumming and breezy keyboards, it’s a fitting final outlook for an album that captures the economical, hook-driven songwriting of decades past, but with a dash of well placed wisdom.