In October 2002, American indie band Rilo Kiley released their second full-length album, The Execution of All Things, through Saddle Creek Records. This release came nearly exactly a year after their first album, Take Offs and Landings, and showed an impressive growth achieved within such a short time.
Part of the change came from the presentation of the band, with the change in lineup and primary lead singer. The original foursome consisted of Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett on vocals, keys and guitar, Pierre de Reeder on bass guitar, guitar and backing vocals, and Dave Rock in percussion. For Execution and their subsequent albums, Rock was replaced with Jason Boesel. Additionally, for the first time – counting their Initial Friend EP as well as Take Offs – Lewis sings lead vocals on the majority of Execution, instead of Sennett who is only lead on two of the 11 songs. The increase in Lewis’ visibility within the band was a significant change for the group, as they continued to feature her vocals more frequently in their next two albums, turning her abilities into a notable feature of their music.
Execution as a whole was widely praised, receiving a Metacritic score of 80 out of 100, with the album receiving more reviews and publicity than their first, with ratings often hovering around three out of four stars or in the B to A- range. While this second album did receive greater publicity than their first, it was still a continuation of their small-scale start, with only one single being released, “The Execution of All Things.” They didn’t release a music video for the single, but it was still praised upon release by Rolling Stone as a “checklist of modern destruction,” with Lewis’ “girlish, ethereal voice [making] the band’s brutal vision all the more startling.”
That “brutal vision” described is apt for the album, as it expands upwards and inwards from Take Offs. The songwriting became more intricate and lengthy, with more obvious underlying themes throughout the album, and the music became a little larger and fuller with Lewis now able to expand the personalities and tones in her performances without sticking to the quieter, more “girlish” voice from the first album.
The band finds itself shifting easily between quiet and more introspective sounds, such as in “The Good That Won’t Come Out,” “So Long,” and “With Arms Outstretched” to more dynamic and sometimes even raucous songs like “Better Son/Daughter” and “Spectacular Views.” Throughout the album, however, nearly every song, whether it begins quietly or is immediately forthright, reaches some sort of cathartic climax by the end of the song, with the music and vocals becoming louder and more complex and hearty. The album experience as a whole echoes that progression, with the final track “Spectacular Views” being the song that utilizes the most obvious instrumentation from the start and includes Lewis’ throaty declarations that the sights she describes are “so fucking beautiful.”
The actual end of the album is the completion of a twelfth song that is broken up throughout the album. This track, titled by fans as “And That’s How I Choose to Remember It,” is a whispery story sung by Lewis, depicting a child’s remembrance of her parents’ divorce and the period immediately afterward. Its completion after “Spectacular Views” brings us down from the highs of that song, and into the more contemplative nature of the music that came before. In particular, the bonus track is tied to the frequent theme throughout of growing up and transitioning from childhood or adolescence into adulthood, and reckoning with the feelings and responsibilities that come with that. A few tracks, specifically “My Slumbering Heart,” focus on memories from childhood, while others refer to family (“Better Son/Daughter”) and many allude to the future and the changes that the singer hopes or knows will come.
The most well-known song to casual listeners is likely “Better Son/Daughter.” This track is likely so notable because it so strongly depicts depression, or perhaps bipolar disorder, with the singer volleying between being “really fucking on” and in “lows… so extreme.” The song, which moves from very quiet to very loud, achingly represents the daily fight with mental health, with a description of a painful phone call with a relative, and promises the singer makes to themselves to “be better, smarter, more grown up and a better daughter or son and a real good friend” in the future. The song is a great example of the songwriting of Rilo Kiley that often manages to speak so eloquently about feelings or problems many other musicians or entertainers may not want to breach in their work.
Ultimately, The Execution of All Things, is a heartfelt, sympathetic album about maturation and transition by a young band beginning to show real signs of longevity and success. It is an important step forward in a relatively short, but powerful, discography.