erasing clouds

A Time for Blake: The Elected's Me First

by paul jaissle

I am inherently very lazy. I am writing this here album review well after I should have had it done and at the last possible minute. But just because I happen to procrastinate does not mean that I lack interest or passion: I may wait until the last minute, but I still promise to deliver a quality product I am proud of. Because of this, I refuse to take the easy way out with this article. I will not fall into the easy traps and predictable format that all too many album reviewers find themselves in: hopefully this effort is appreciated by you, the music buying public, despite the slapped-together grammatical nightmare which results from this late night writing session.

Since the Elected began as a side-project for Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett, it would easy (and all to common) to begin with a lengthy examination about the spotty history of side-projects. I could point out how these endeavors so often fall flat or are usually unnecessary since they sound so close to the original band. But why waste time with such common knowledge? All you need to know is that Blake represents the half of Rilo Kiley's creative force whose contributions to the band's catalogue are usually soft, hushed compositions which balance out singer Jenny Lewis's biting take on alt-country indie rock. And while initial listening might have you assume that Me First is simply more of the same from Sennett, it soon becomes apperent that the Elected are a first rate group themselves who don't need to ride Rilo Kiley's coattails at all.

At this point in the review I could call your attention to the album's 'Thank Yous' credits and the fact that the late Elliott Smith tops Blake's catalouge of graditude. This, of course, would lead to a discussion about how much Sennett's vocal delivery and songwriting sounds like Smith's and how such a thank you should come as no surprise. But that would be lazy of me, but I'm not going to let that simple thank you write my review for me. Both Sennett and Smith do have a similar, hushed deliver to their vocals so it would be easy to see the influence Smith on Sennett's sound. But where Elliott Smith had a sort of perfection to his fragility and vulnerability, Sennett's vocals sound more off the cuff and less polished quality to his voice as if he sounds less sure about his ability. The songwriting qualities of both musicians are also similar in a way. Most of Elliott Smith's best songs have an autobiographical feel to them, whether they actually are or not. The same can be said for Sennett, but his confessions deal mostly with the shortcomingsof other people rather than his own sins. On album highlight 'Go On,' the first biting line has an obvious target: 'Would you do something for yourself, Mom? And get the hell off of the couch.' This sentiment is echoed on the next tune 'C'mon Mom' and the sincerity of the deliver cannot be doubted, which gives the whole album an air of intimacy.

So we know that Blake Sennett sounds kind of like Elliott Smith, but what about the music itself? Well, the Elected are a full-fledged band who have the ability to fill Sennett's songs with emotions all together different from his Rilo Kiley material. The Mike Mogis production has layers of different sounds which fit together beautifully: there's Blake's gentle guitar picking, shimmering slide guitar parts, sampled sounds, and glitchy, programmed beats. Luckily, the inclusion of electronic elements sounds natural rather than gimmicky like the Postal Service. Take for example, the sequencing during the break-down in the aforementioned 'Go On': it comes in right before the guitar solo and fits so perfectly that it's hard to imagine it not being there. There are a few missteps on the disc, but even those grow on the listener like the Broadway show meledy on 'Don't Get Your Hopes Up' and album closer 'British Columbia' which feels sort of tacked on after the wonderfully tender 'Don't Blow It' and even sounds like it could have been a Rilo Kiley song since it's muted, delivery and back-up vocals would have sounded great coming out of Jenny Lewis.

Over all Me First avoids the common mistakes of side-projects and can co-exist with Sennett's other band. Honestly, after a few listens, Me First proves just how talented and passionate Blake Sennett is and how much more respect he deserves. Rilo Kiley may be overshadowed in Omaha by Bright Eyes and Cursive for now, but they can certainly hold their own among those bands as well as any others out there today. And with his emergance as a primary songwriting force with the Elected it is obvious that Sennett is capable at beating Connor Oberst at his own game of hopeless romantic alt-country tinged inide folk rock.

Even though 2004 is barely two months old, I feel comfortable saying I will hold a space for the Elected's Me First on my end of the year list.


Issue 21, March 2004

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