The Elected - Bury Me in My Rings
It's been five years since the release of Sun, Sun, Sun, the Elected's excellent sophomore album, and four years since Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight and I was beginning to think Blake Sennett had given up on music altogether - which would have been a shame because he's always been unduly overshadowed by Jenny Lewis when his talent certainly rivals if not exceeds hers. Lewis has unarguably got the stronger and more versatile vocal chops (though Sennett's now are certainly admirable, considering he often struggled to stay on-key in Rilo Kiley's earlier days) but, at this point, based on what they've done apart from each other so far, I'd have to call Sennett the better songwriter. A few years ago, at the peak of my Rilo Kiley obsession, I would have given the victory to Lewis but her music seems to have only grown more simplistic and forgettable while Sennett's remains rich and lasting. Though Bury Me in My Rings is probably the poppiest thing he's done so far apart from Under the Blacklight, it's poppy in an inspired way and not a limp, bloodless way like Lewis' most recent project, Jenny and Johnny. There are a couple missteps - I could do without the R&B-inspired "Babyface," for example - but, overall, the album is incredibly consistent and also much darker than its often light atmosphere leads one to believe. Though very catchy, at times almost bouncy, most of the songs here feature heavy subject matter, from failing relationships ("Look at Me Now") to death ("When I'm Gone") to domestic disillusionment ("Who Are You"). Adding fuel to the rumors of their volatile relationship, two of the album's most intriguing songs feature unflinchingly honest barbs that sound suspiciously like they might be directed at Lewis herself (similarly, Jenny and Johnny's "My Pet Snakes" sounded as if it could be meant for Sennett). "Go for the Throat" is an impeccably groovy track, straight out of another decade, and the lyrics are decidedly pointed: "Cooked up some big dreams, escaped a small life/You heard the kids scream every night/Now you're on late night, you're doing co-writes/And you just left the rest behind." In the second half of the album, "Have You Been Cheated" is even more wicked: "You put all your best words/In your worst song/And you can't bear to sing it/When they won't sing along... You may not know what you are but you know what you've done/And now you're back out on the road having fun." These lyrics, their richly-orchestrated instrumental accompaniment and Sennett's impassioned vocal delivery make it one of his best songs yet. Another standout is the six-minute ballad "This Will Be Worth It." Its length and gradual build-up bring to mind Sun, Sun, Sun's grand finale "Biggest Star," though it doesn't ever reach such intense heights. Despite its subtlety, it's a highly emotional track, particularly when Sennett croons with heartbreaking earnestness, "If we get the chance to do it all again/Feel free to do it, love, with another man." The fact that such self-deprecating charm sits side-by-side with aggressive confidence and both facets of Sennett's personality come across as equally genuine makes Bury Me in My Rings all the more intriguing - for a pop album, it's surprisingly complicated.