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Shmat's Reviews
For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

The Elected
Me First (CD)

The last time (and unfortunately the only time so far) I saw Rilo Kiley play was at the Elliott Smith benefit at the Henry Fonda Theatre. A definite sad way to be introduced to one of my new favorite bands. Clad in a trucker hat, Blake Sennett poured it on in a heartwrenching rendition of Smith's "The Biggest Lie" with cohort Jenny Lewis harmonizing sweetly. From their latest CD "The Execution of All Things" we knew Blake had talent, both as a songwriter and stellar guitarist. Turns out he can pretty much become the center of the band as well, as he does on The Elected's debut CD Me First off of Subpop. I wonder whether the title "Me First" is meant to be wry commentary on the gluttonous ambitions of today's politicians or an insiders observation on the cookie cutter, star-humper atmosphere of Los Angeles' entertainment industry ... or both.

Like Rilo Kiley, The Elected furnishes an opulent room of solidly crafted pop tunes brimming with country licks. The familiar props and devices such as drum machine, telephonized vocals, and strange samples are all here. The group also borrows Rilo Kiley's Jason Boesel for the drumkit, so to say it's a complete departure from Rilo is probably wrong. I would say the major difference is the absence of Jenny Lewis' sweeter vocals. Here it's only Sennett's softly whispered lilt that carries us carefully in and around the hills of Los Angeles. Also, the tunes definitely have a higher ratio of pedal steel type songs. Everyone's probably tired of me comparing bands that have deep alt-country influences yet remain indie rock to Wilco. Yes, lazy journalism you'd call it. But this does have that similar feel to some of their work, especially "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" which contains an inordinate percentage of quirky samples and technoblurbs mixed among the tracks.

In any case, though the window dressing definitely makes the album interesting to me (i'm a sucker for unusual between-track manipulations), it's the songs themselves that make the album worthwhile. I sort of agree with Subpop's summation of the overall feel as "simultanteously timeless in its themes." Sennett is such a consummate storyteller. Indeed, on the opening track, "September 2003", he's already lamenting, "Oh, the stories they say we'll tell / Well, I tell too many stories / So I guess it's just as well." It's almost debatable whether he's pleased with his role here. The boozy and reverbed harmonica on "Greetings In Braille" helps paint portraits of broken down individuals living with their memories, a scene as relevant today as 1000 years (or beers) ago. "If my senses fail / stay with me 'til they go / cause I don't want to be alone," he pleads, voicing that universal fear of loneliness. The horns on the short "A Time for Emily" change things up a bit, sounding a bit like Seargent Pepper era Beatles. "Don't Get Your Hopes Up", with it's carnival like beat and jazzy sax, sounds almost like a musical of sorts, wherein the protagonist clings to the hope that his love will take him along when she leaves. "Waves" is toe-stomping and do-si-do like in beat, that fast country double time that is endlessly pleasing for its boogie. If you could take the insulated world of Sparklehorse and combine it with REM's waltzing ballad "Everybody Hurts", you'd come out with "C'mon Mom". This song, with it's telephonized vocals and delicate drum machine also reminded me a lot of the band Elk City.

One thing potential converts to The Elected's sound may want to keep in mind is that where Rilo Kiley presented us with a palette of both male and female voices for the lead and harmonies, you pretty much get Sennett on lead for every single song on this album. That is not at all a problem for fans of gravelly and quiet voices like his, but you may be disappointed if you're used to the more straightforward pop approach of Jenny Lewis. In any case, Sennett's new project has proved that he has the capability to expand his musical aspirations in other directions, and The Elected are definitely a band to keep an eye on.

- review by BY (3.25.04)        

Sub Pop Records
2514 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121

(You can read this review
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