Last Friday (in the midst of everything else lol) was Bandcamp Friday, a now-monthly event where Bandcamp waives its revenue share to put more money in the pockets of musicians. One of my favorite things I bought last Friday was No Bad Words For The Coast Today, a covers compilation of The Execution Of All Things by Rilo Kiley. (Shout out to music journalist & editor Tatiana Tenreyro, who put the comp together.)
Listening to the covers collection (which is great! Sad13, Erick Slick, Dump Him, Adult Mom! And more!) I was reminded just how much I love The Execution Of All Things. So in its honor, I thought I’d steal a format from another newsletter, Larry Fitzmaurice’s Last Donut Of The Night, and write a bit about the album — nineteen bits, actually.
The Execution Of All Things is Rilo Kiley’s second full-length album. It came out in 2002 on Saddle Creek Records.
I think I first heard Rilo Kiley when one of my sister’s high school boyfriends played “Portions for Foxes” for us (which is from More Adventurous, RK’s third album, the one after Execution) when it first came out and I really dug it and learned all the words and how to play it on guitar, I think, but for some reason I didn’t use that as an excuse to work backwards through the band’s catalog.
(Every time I remember that the title More Adventurous is a reference to “Meditations In An Emergency,” it thrills me all over again.)
Another way in: In 2003, Saddle Creek Records released a compilation CD called Saddle Creek 50, celebrating the label’s fiftieth release. A year or two later, my sister and I bought the CD in a Newbury Comics and made our mom play it in the car incessantly. The album features two tracks from each artist on the roster at the time — an album track and an unreleased track. The Execution track “With Arms Outstretched” is on there, as is “Jenny, You’re Barely Alive” (which is also covered on the Bandcamp covers comp).
We didn’t spend a lot of time with the Rilo Kiley songs, though, because we were obsessed with tracks 1 and 2, “Worked Up So Sexual” and “Take Me To The Hospital” by The Faint. We had never really heard dance-punk before and we loved it. (Our mom liked it considerably less, complaining all aghast that it sounded like the ’80s!)
Soon after, we saw The Faint and Bright Eyes at a now-defunct club in Providence on the tour behind Digital Ash. It was the first time I ever went to a concert in a club, first without a parent or guardian. (My sister’s boyfriend, who went with us and gave off the air of a person who had been to shows before, was sixteen at the time; let’s count him as the guardian, I guess.) Cliché but still real: That experience — being a lonely and precocious kid on the cusp of teenagehood, stuffed into a club with a bunch of hip indie fans seeing a medium-famous band we all loved — was a revelation.
In college, I made friends with a girl in my dorm who was a huge Jenny Lewis fan. Despite being from opposite coasts (she, from California, was the first person to tell me about Trader Joe’s and açaí bowls) we bonded over Bright Eyes and books and having long-distance boyfriends. Her enthusiasm was the reason I got into Execution and RK’s other music, plus Jenny’s solo material. Once, we did a performance of “With Arms Outstretched” at a dorm talent show — me playing guitar, her singing. It was a big a hit.
(Also around that time, a girl I had a crush on played “A Better Son/Daughter” in our dorm common room and a bunch of people sang along and I was really embarrassed that I had to pretend to know all the words. I know all the words now.)
I think many people maybe heard “A Better Son/Daughter” for the first time in the closing credits of the comedy special Nanette. I found the placement kind of deflating, even though I guess both the show and the song end on a somewhat triumphant note. Maybe it was just the discomfort of hearing a song I love in a context where I’d never expect it.
In a 2004 piece for the Village Voice, Christgau said that song ought to be “licensed to the American Psychological Association for free downloading by depressives and their co-dependents.” Very funny and apt.
(In that same review he also calls Jenny Lewis “such a wet dream for indie boys,” a description I love considerably less.)
(If you’re wondering, of course sexism abounds in early reviews of the record. Blender said Rilo Kiley makes “twentysomething disillusionment sound wryer, sunnier and more melodic than anyone has since Alanis Morissette ruined it with her angsty whine.” Can you imagine thinking Alanis Morissette ruined disillusionment?!)
In Marseille a decade or so ago, I lived on top of a hill, right behind the city’s famous cathedral, Notre-Dame de la Garde. (Locals call the cathedral «la bonne mère», the good/holy mother, but my friend once mistakenly referred to it as «la belle mère», our city’s stepmother. That always made me laugh.) I could follow the street behind the cathedral down to the sea where I’d hit a road that ran along the coast (and which was, inexplicably, named after JFK). I used to go for runs there in the mornings before school, listening to the same dozen songs or so, and “Spectacular Views,” the last song on Execution, was always one of them. I love the way Jenny sings there are no bad words for the coast today; it comes to me often now when I stand on the edge of any body of water.
Sometimes I think people claim Rilo Kiley as emo canon because we’re all so desperate to paper over the genre’s sexist history with righteous counter-examples but maybe the band deserves it for the sheer fact of Jenny Lewis’ deftness with vulnerability and emotional candor. Also, the guitars in “Paint’s Peeling.”
Sad13 covered “Paint’s Peeling” for the comp. “I bought The Execution of All Things over Saddle Creek’s mail order,” Sadie told Rolling Stone, “and remember listening over and over again to ‘Paint’s Peeling’ on my tiny bedroom CD player, blown away by the song’s final explosion into all-consuming distortion.” She describes her cover as “almost like Sleep covering Rilo Kiley.”
Once, a few years ago, I was waiting to take a train to New York and doomscrolling Twitter, feeling a rare combination of righteously bad and guilty about something online. All morning I sat in my living room waiting to leave for Union Station and feeling sad and so I thought, Oh I’ll listen to an album I love, how about The Execution Of All Things, and after like ninety seconds of “The Good That Won’t Come Out” I started crying pretty hard and then I remembered that, while I absolutely love this record, it’s not always the right time to listen to it.
There’s something about Jenny’s voice in those opening verses — dejected but not hopeless, sometimes trailing off and sometimes crawling close to desperation — that almost compels me to bail before the whole song blossoms in its final minute.
Miranda Reinert said in her newsletter recently that listening to Execution for the first time made her remember why she likes music, which I found very sweet.
All week I’ve been walking around my house singing quietly to myself: pretend all the good things for you / pretend all the good things for me, too.
Hope all the good things for you this week.