Blake Sennett was all but a silent partner in Rilo Kiley’s last two LPs, which suggests the title of his first solo bow as the Elected, Me First, was something of an in-joke. He previously explored advertently lush California sounds on 2006’s Sun, Sun, Sun, but on his latest album,Bury Me in My Rings, Sennett has immersed himself in a definitively Golden State of mind. It’s not what you think, however: Sennett riffs on Silver Lake ennui and Hollywood plasticity. To properly criticize it, you have to play an active role in it he seems to say.
Indeed, the countrypolitan aspirations of Bury Me often make it sound hollow– there’s a basis in roots music, but it isn’t “rootsy” by any stretch. Instead, the clean-shaven guitars, pedal steels, and violins (not fiddles) achieve an eerie minimalism. Even when they’re all appearing at the same time, they’re not overwhelming these songs or offering low-end counterpoint but playing toward Sennett’s papery, Elliott Smith-like vocals.
Meanwhile, Sennett’s songwriting voice has a nonchalant, conversational tone. The melodies and lyrical sentiments of “Born to Love You” come so easily, you figure it just has to be cliché, until some loopy tangents about moon launches and flat-screen TV’s suggest that Sennett’s in on his own joke. On the whole, there are enough tossed-off thoughts and broken communication to make you feel like an eavesdropper rather than a part of a dialogue. Whether addressing a seemingly doomed relationship on the string-haunted “Who Are You” (“You got yourself a good girl/ That’s good enough for you”) or possibly former Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel during “Have You Been Cheated” (“Is your daddy a hustler?” ostensibly referring to his solo album, Hustler’s Son), there’s a resigned lack of judgment, which always sounds empathetic even when it feels completely accusatory.
That sense of resignation can also be a weakness. It wasn’t the post-Postal Service production trickery that made Me First the best Rilo Kiley project since The Execution of All Things, but relatively uptempo numbers like “Go On” and “A Time for Emily”– there’s an intriguing inversion in how Sennett’s more aggressive music often sounds the most emotionally vulnerable. “Go For the Throat” approaches that sort of catharsis, but not much other than a distorted vocal effect on “When I’m Gone” will jolt you out of the second half of this record, which spends too much time with its feet up. Curiously, that sort of pointedly L.A. arrested development suits Sennett– even as he morphs sonically, on Bury Me in My Ringshe stays true to detailing a life of bright prospects and a willingness to underachieve.
— Ian Cohen, June 2, 2011