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Dissected: Jenny Lewis

on April 04, 2013, 12:01am
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dissected logo Dissected: Jenny LewisWelcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Rilo Kiley’s brilliant singer-songwriter.

Let it never be said that Jenny Lewis is a one-trick pony. Over her 34-year career (starting with a Jell-O commercial at age three, and yes, that means she’s somehow 37), she’s worn many hats. From neglect-battered daughter to teen feminist with a shotgun, from spindly twentysomething twee-pop to matured vintage country, from politi-soul to glam disco, her body of work seems to test her personal boundaries in a manner unique to her bizarre set of life experiences: when you’ve never known a predictable life, you tend to steer clear from predictable choices. So, although she might not hit the nail on the head every time, while you were explaining why her last project sucked, she’s been working on something new and totally unlike the last.

The latest piece of the J-Lew canon, the perfectly named Rilo Kiley rarities compilation, Rkives, arrives this week to much-deserved fanfare, but the album seems like all we’re going to get out of Lewis’ most successful foray for the foreseeable future. Call it Child-Star Emotional Fallout, but Lewis and bandmate/ex-boyfriend Blake Sennett seem tired. In any given interview the band members have done recently, the pair can hardly keep a dozen years’ seething resentment out of their voices when they talk about literally anything to do with the project: personal relationships, creative processes, solo albums, and now, allegedly permanent breakup. They might be on good enough terms to collect a few of their favorite old songs, but it seems the fertile years of the band’s discontent are behind them – at least for the time being.

In the meantime, Lewis has taken the time to finally move out of her famously terrible Silverlake apartment – and oddly, back into the Hollywood machine she abandoned as an adult. Working as music supervisor with Gyllenhaal mom Naomi Foner on her upcoming movie Very Good Girls, as well as prepping the inevitable fourth non-Kiley album, Lewis is treading in dangerous waters. Will any of her new ventures top the critical and commercial successes she’s racked up so far? Taking a gander at the vast expanse of Lewis’s three decades of magic-making might help put everything in perspective.

Note: We’re leaving a couple of projects off the list in the name of editorial license: numerous a la carte television appearances and commercials (Growing Pains, Golden Girls, Roseanne, Jell-O); a regular spot as Lucille Ball’s granddaughter on the comedian’s final, short-lived 1986 sitcom, Life with Lucy; her “band member” status on the Postal Service’s 2003 record Give Up; the European release of an Execution of All Things EP that included the band’s Lou Reed “After Hours” cover; and that 2008 Disney movie Bolt, to which Lewis contributed voice acting and a theme song that sounds like a Rabbit Fur Coat demo with transplanted G-rated lyrics. Thank us later.

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