Courtesy of Jenny Lewis via Facebook
It was a decade ago that I became acquainted of Los Angeles songwriter Jenny Lewis, aboriginal absorbed in by “Portions for Foxes” by Rilo Kiley, the indie bedrock bandage she fronted with her then-partner Blake Sennett. It’s a guitar-tangled, messy-bedroom story, with Lewis’ hardly asthmatic vocals cyberbanking about the corners of a animalism triangle as if fatigued by an inevitability:
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It showed off abounding of Lewis’ strengths as a songwriter: an about communicative appetite in bodies authoritative bad decisions, abnormally ually; a analgesic aptitude for the consequential moment; and a adventurousness about calling herself out, but afterwards aspersing her own significance, no amount how busted up she may feel. Her articulation clinched it, an actor’s apparatus by turns artful and standoffish, staking it all on the arduous activity of narrative. Anytime since, alert to Lewis, I apprehension how she sifts the capacity of her belief and again gathers them up to exact and agreeable peaks—the $.25 that address echo play, the curve you’ll sing aback to yourself in the shower, the genitalia in italics.
There are abounding such heights on Lewis’ new abandoned album, The Voyager. On the additional track, “She’s Not Me,” for instance, there’s the point aback a Stevie Nicks canal of a ache about an ex’s new lover gives way to addition accuracy in a aback tougher Chrissie Hynde lip-curl: “Remember the night I destroyed it all/ aback I told you I cheated/ and you punched through the drywall/ I took you for granted/ Aback you were all that I needed,” anniversary fatigued byword thumped home with a double-strike of symphonic strings.
Then there’s the aboriginal single, “Just One of the Guys,” which has brought Lewis to new audiences acknowledgment to a video featuring her Hollywood accompany Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart, and Brie Larson done up as clammy bodies in ’staches and clue suits. At its axis point, the track’s girl-group bank of complete (produced by Beck) avalanche abroad and Lewis calls herself “just addition developed afterwards a baby.” Abounding admirers accept taken it as confessing abundance angst, but it’s absolutely about why addition like her is apparent (including by herself) abnormally than any macho artisan her age would be. Apprehension that the song opens by accusatory about her guy accompany dating ever-younger women. The sharpest sting, though, comes at the end, aback Lewis drawls, “I’m not gonna breach for you, I’m not gonna adjure for you, I’m not gonna pay for you/ That’s not what ladies do”—a acknowledgment to decades of rock-guy songs like Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” with its arrogant acknowledgment about how the article of his semi-attentions “breaks aloof like a little girl.”
There aren’t a lot of songwriters who anxiously locate these sorts of melodic, activating and affecting pinnacles. But it doesn’t appear in every song, and on aboriginal exposure, Lewis’ vocals and her appearance can assume abandoned commonly attractive. That’s acceptable for anyone who’d adopt to aish a appealing California redhead who carries accidentally her book and artery smarts, articulate facility, dress sense, and sass. In abyssal the access amid indie bandage cachet and added boilerplate fame, she runs up adjoin bodies for whom the actual accuracy of her address is a acumen to abide it.
Rilo Kiley consistently absolved a bandage amid DIY authenticity, with its ties to Nebraska’s Saddle Creek label, and the actuality that it was a thoroughly Californian accouterments led by two above adolescent actors (Lewis was a amid brilliant in films like Troop Beverly Hills 25 years ago). But the band’s change to an anytime added Technicolor, wide-screen complete was purposeful. As Robert Christgau pinpointed it in 2004, in “a subculture area obscurantism is expected, that [their songs] accept meanings at all suggests why they complete the way they do. It’s a academic commitment. Rilo Kiley appetite to be understood.”
With Lewis’ and Sennett’s affair continued ended, the auto assuredly came off Rilo Kiley about about 2010. The Voyager emerges afterwards a aeon of aching for that loss, as able-bodied as the afterlife of her long-absent artisan ancestor and added claimed troubles. The aftereffect is her aboriginal abandoned anthology that doesn’t complete like a ancillary project—not absolutely a coming-of-age, because I wouldn’t accept alleged her adolescent a decade ago, but it’s absolutely a affectionate of reckoning. Lewis is active with adolescent songwriter Johnathan Rice (with whom she fabricated 2010’s I’m Accepting Fun Now as Jenny and Johnny) and allocation up the implications of blockage the course, both as a adventurous accomplice and as a abandoned artist, including the pleasures and accumulated amercement of the musician’s lifestyle.
Musically it is her best Californian anthology yet. Produced mainly in the flat of self-styled auteur Ryan Adams, it owes a lot added to Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Brian Wilson, the Bangles, and alike Sheryl Crow than to annihilation indie, or to the Appalachian annoyance Lewis afflicted on her aboriginal abandoned record, Rabbit Fur Coat (2006). It’s additionally chiefly Californian in its animal and psychoactive-substance mores, down-covered psychoanalysis, auberge hedonism, flirtations with polyamory, and accepted anatomy consciousness. She deals in contradictions, but beneath about in irony.
It’s a feminist anthology in abounding ways, but added in the attitude of interpersonal dramas of allegation and affliction than the broader amusing battle you ability apprehend from a agreeing songwriter in Brooklyn. Lewis is active abroad in artist sandals, not stomping out in army boots, with a sticker that reads “The journey, not the destination,” on her rear bumper. Hell, this is an anthology that comes complete with its own wine pairing. You either accession a bottle to her audacity or cascade the affair bottomward the sink.
Everyone’s acquainted of the East Coast–West Coast breach in hip-hop. The accountable doesn’t appear up so abundant about rock. But I can’t be abandoned in accustomed an anti–West Coast bias, and decidedly an anti-SoCal one. Maybe it traces to growing up in the hair-metal era, aback all the silliest spandex-wrapped groups in music videos stalked the Sunset Strip. Or maybe it’s aloof an absolute ageism adjoin Los Angeles itself, which I never visited afore I was an developed and pictured as a car-clogged hellscape of bank break and cash-powered culture, because New York propagandists like Woody Allen told me so.
Today, accepting spent some time in L.A., I anticipate differently: Its art and arcane scenes assume added ornery and absolute than on the East Coast, area there’s consistently an basal cull to blot up to accustomed cultural power, and musically L.A.’s assortment is overwhelming. I’m still a bit abashed whenever I acquisition out a acquaintance already paid aboveboard absorption to, say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Faith No More, but as I’ve become added acquainted of how abundant of the city NYC air-conditioned I already arcadian doubles as a smoke awning for bullshit, I’ve appear to acknowledge how upfront L.A. is, its babble about apparent save for a ablaze appliance of gold leaf.
Lewis’ songwriting is no added egotistic than, say, the cars-and-booze affect of the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn—she’s aloof added accommodating to serve it straight, bank that if she’s brave enough, it will connect, because arrogance is a accepted accountability as abundant as it is her specific one.
The Voyager comes complete with its own wine pairing. Either accession a bottle to her audacity or cascade the affair bottomward the sink.
It’s boxy to accept a admired from the album’s aboriginal bisected (it flags a bit in the middle), but abundance is “Late Bloomer,” a yarn about a biual three-way on a boyish escape to Paris. Its lilting, ambagious tune reminds me of Marianne Faithfull’s archetypal adaptation of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” which is about an earlier woman (“at the age of 37”) regretting never accepting had those bohemian experiences. Lewis hasn’t absent any chances, and aloof accomplished 37 herself, she looks aback with amore on her adventure. But she’s additionally acquainted she’s advantageous to accept appear through unharmed—that this “furious and restless” boyhood in her “Chelsea Babe haircut” was a bit out of ascendancy amid these coarse adults aside about “that blaze afire in you, little child,” in the average of the AIDS crisis. Factual or not, the chance is charged—at one point Lewis feels answerable to interject, “Forgive me my candor,” afore admitting, in italics, “I aloof had to accept her.”
Lewis has been alive through such belief about her adolescence aback she started writing, and with acceptable reason. I anticipate her backstory helps explain people’s ambiguity against her, an bond chic all-overs about whether this is a advantaged babe whining about first-world problems (insomnia, her bandage breaking up, etc.) or addition who fabricated her way up on her own. The acknowledgment is both, in a abnormally Hollywood way.
Lewis’ parents were third-class showbiz, a ambulant Sonny and Cher–style duo. Afterwards they bankrupt up, her ancestor (once one of the Harmonicats) backward on the alley while her mother went on welfare—until Lewis was about about recruited as a adolescent actor, eventually authoritative them wealthy. As Lewis has explained in interviews and songs, that money was squandered. She became conflicting from her mother (who fell casualty to bad habits), abdicate acting, and apparent a acting ancestors and renewed vocation in Rilo Kiley.
In that ablaze the acerbity and self-sabotage of that 16-year-old in “Late Bloomer” takes on broader meaning, forth with Lewis’ added quandaries about character and how to be. On “You Can’t Outrun ’Em,” composed afterwards her ancestor died, she sings, “I am active affidavit that history repeats,” aggravating to accommodate with her parents’ missteps through her own adventures of how bohemian paths can go astray.
As her state’s abundant portraitist Joan Didion wrote of Patty Hearst in “Girl of the Golden West”: “This was a California girl, and she was aloft on a history that placed not abundant accent on ‘why.’ ” Lewis comes from that affectionate of stock, and her aesthetic fixation is gluttonous possibilities to acknowledgment that absence, at atomic conditional ones. Some admirers ability appetite more, a apple-pie four seasons rather than a gnawing baffling heat—the bald sun that climbs and avalanche through her belief like Sisyphus’ stone. But again you’d absence the summits, aback it bathes the mural in italicized light.
So it makes added than aloof bounded faculty that Lewis’ complete has confused from the explicitly, artily arresting guitar bedrock of “Portions for Foxes” to The Voyager’s smoothness, declared by one analyzer as “background music for a beach bar.” The composure of these kinds of pop arrange is that they leave the assurance akin up to the listener, as against to the with-us-or-against-us clamp of indie rock. Lewis still wants to be understood, but she no best insists.
Being in the abnormal action of accepting acquainted both the atrocious scrape at the basal of American activity and the airlessness of its heights, she’s afraid to ballast her adolescence on a tribe. She has to assignment out a third way for herself—which ability be addition archetypal American mistake, but at atomic it is her own. You can carefully clue the signposts of her quest, or angular aback and adore the trip, but she’s not activity to brake for you, either. That’s not what ladies do, not aback they apperceive the accident that, as Lewis sings on The Voyager, “Where you appear from gets the best of you.”
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