Not What You'd Expect

Rilo Kiley gets dirty, New Pornographers get emotional and Blake Burris gets silly

Pulp

Rilo Kiley

Under the Blacklight (Warner)

Fresh off the soulful, country cuddliness of her side project with the Watson Twins, 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat , frontvixen Jenny Lewis clearly had naughty things in mind when she reconvened with Rilo Kiley for the band's fourth album, Under the Blacklight. In truth, every Rilo record has had its share of sex appeal, but nothing to the slap-you-in-the-face extreme of their new single, â“Moneymaker,â” which includes a raunchy disco riff, a raunchier video with porn-star cameos, and the least adventurous wordplay of Lewis' stellar lyrical career: â“ You've got the moneymaker / They showed the money to you / You showed them what you can do.â”

Not surprisingly, the song sent Rilo loyalists into defensive panic mode for a while, claiming that, A) â“it'll grow on you,â” and B) â“the whole album probably won't be like that.â” They were right on at least one count, because, thankfully, Under the Blacklight makes for a worthy addition to the diverse and always enjoyable Rilo Kiley canon.

Lewis remains one of the most sultry and charming singers on the planet, effortlessly drifting from straight-up Memphis soul (â“Silver Liningâ”) to lovely folk balladry (â“Under the Blacklightâ”) and blip-pop coolness (â“Breakin' Upâ”). Meanwhile, guitarist Blake Sennett has embraced an almost Television-esque (or maybe Franz Ferdinand) playing style, which might pay its best dividends on the superb â“Close Call,â” a track that feels ripe for getting unfairly overlooked. â" Andrew Clayman

The New Pornographers

Challengers (Matador)

With Matador putting out their records and indie heroes like Dan Bejar (Destroyer) and Neko Case (world's coolest woman) counting themselves as members, The New Pornographers certainly might look like indie rock's greatest supergroup. What they sound like, however, is just a really good pop band that ought to be on the f*#%ing radio.

As with the band's previous three records, Challengers finds the New Pornographers' red-headed ringleader Carl Newman kicking out the jams with sickening ease, finding that perfect balance of thinking man's anthems (the fantastic title track sung by Case) and clap-along, road-tripping, pop gems (â“Mutiny, I Promise Youâ”).

On the whole, Challengers has a noticeably more organic feel than any of the band's other work, including 2005's acclaimed Twin Cinema . A lot of the swirling synths are gone, replaced with the more subtle textures of the Wurlitzer, mandolin, glockenspiel, strings, and a lot of piano. This, along with Newman's less cryptic, slightly more personal lyricism, makes Challengers the most emotionally evocative record the band's made, but not at the expense of melody or good fun. The simple chorus of â“Failsafeâ”â" â“you and me both, Kidâ”â" might not match the energy of classic New Pornos tunes like â“Letter From An Occupantâ” or â“The Bleeding Heart Show,â” but it actually might hit closer to the bone.

If good pop is still good pop, then the New Pornographers need not be relegated to the ears of those who listen to the Shins and Belle & Sebastian. â" A.C.

Shake it Like a Caveman

Or Will it Take Everything (Silvermine Studios)

â“Get in the kitchen and make me some dinner , â” caveman Blake Burris sings, with an obvious sneer as he stares into his audience, daring them to take his machismo seriously. If you saw his set at the Preservation Pub a few weeks ago, you saw a man with a hairdo straight out of the Cro-Magnon exhibit at the Smithsonian. When he plays, he's seated behind a drumset, cranking out his swamp-blues licks while pounding away at a kick drum and high-hat. It's a one-man stomp-fÃte, complete with boisterous field hollers.

â“Latex and hot sex and midnight telephone calls , â” he sings on â“Love in the Workplace,â” a song that's able to stay tongue-in-cheek without sacrificing the gritty guitar work that we'd expect from a Southern-fried bluesman whose brains are blitzed by white lightning. â“I can't feel your love on my fingertip . â” Never a dull moment.

This is blues for all those blues hounds out there who haven't heard a fresh riff since Muddy Waters first crawled out of Issaquena County, Mississippi. Shake it Like a Caveman adds a sense of fun and outright filthiness to a genre that needs to lighten up a bit. Burris sings: â“ Livin' on the land/ With my own two hands/ Shake it like a caveman!â” â" Kevin Crowe

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