Beginner’s Guide to Jenny Lewis
A guide to indie goddess Jenny Lewis, from Rilo Kiley to Jenny & Johnny.
April 30, 2014 | Festival | May 2014
Jenny Lewis is It for me. She embodies everything that I could possibly want in a musical icon / role model. She’s got a country twang, indie rock cred for miles, and an incredible group of friends and collaborators (my favorites being Jonathan Rice, Blake Sennet, Zooey Deschanel, and Elvis Costello). She’s also got one of the best live stage presences; her time on the road with band Rilo Kiley and later as a solo act and as part of Jenny and Johnny has made her a Seasoned Veteran™. She’s theatrical, but never gimmicky. Her voice is *always* on point. And, fuck it, she played Shelley Long’s daughter in Troop Beverly Hills.
Catch Jenny on the festival circuit this Spring. She’s playing ACL, Gov Ball, and a few smaller local festivals.
1. The Frug – Rilo Kiley – The Initial Friend EP (1999/2001)
It’s not Jenny’s best material, but it’s always nice to start with the cute, kind of funny old stuff before moving on to the classics. “The Frug” covers “funny old stuff” pretty nicely. It’s a cute song, from Rilo Kiley’s self-titled 1999 EP, and the 2001 The Initial Friend EP. Sort of a meat and mashed potatoes kind of vibe. There’s a music video, which makes this one actually essential viewing.
2. Science vs. Romance – Rilo Kiley – Take Offs and Landings (2001)
3. The Execution of All Things – Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things (2002)
This is possibly my favorite Rilo Kiley song, at least from their earlier albums. By 2002, the band had really developed their early 2000s alt sound, and they definitely earned the emo cred that earned Jenny a spot in Ben Gibbard’s Postal Service. This is the kind of song that makes you wonder why it was never on one of the OC soundtracks.
4. A Better Son/Daughter – Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things (2002)
AND THIS IS THE ANTHEM. I have so many friends who claim this song as a high point in their low periods. “Sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on…You’ll be better, you’ll be smarter, and more grown up and a better daughter or son, and a real good friend.”
5. With Arms Outstretched – Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things (2002)
“With Arms Outstretched” falls on a mostly alternative album, but it’s a preview of the country twang that defines much of Jenny’s later career. I put a live version in the playlist, because it’s real good.
6. Jenny, You’re Barely Alive – Rilo Kiley – Saddle Creek 50 (2003)
This is one of their ~harder~ songs, but damn if it doesn’t work. It only ever appears alongside “With Arms Outstretched” on Saddle Creek 50, which was a compilation released by their record label. Such a shame, too, because it’s one of my favorite songs.
7. Portions for Foxes – Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous (2004)
You’ve heard this song. If you haven’t heard this song, you probably weren’t alive in 2006, and I don’t think you should be on this website. This is maybe Jenny’s most commercially successful song to-date, barring “Silver Lining,” and it’s also the kind of song that doesn’t lose its sheen over time. “There’s blood in my mouth, ’cause I’ve been biting my tongue all week. I keep on talking trash, but I never say anything.” Girl gets it.
8. It’s a Hit – Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous (2004)
Shit gets political. Remember the Bush presidency? “Any chimp can play human for a day, use his opposable thumbs to iron his uniform, and run for office on election day – fancy himself a real decision maker, deploying more troops than salt shakers.” So begins Rilo Kiley’s third studio album. (Fans of Squaresville will be happy to hear that creator Matt Enlow directed the music video).
9. Does He Love You? – Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous (2004)
I remember buying this album at The CD Cellar when I was in high school and being so tickled to see that the lyrics to this song were written as a letter in the liner notes. This is some of Jenny’s finest storytelling. Such a moving fucking song.
10. Rise Up with Fists!! – Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat (2006)
The first song on this list not involving Rilo Kiley is the first of many. Jenny recorded an album with country duo The Watson Twins, and it marked a major departure from the band’s indie rock roots. The old school, kind of Grand Ole Opry vibes are strong here, and as always, Jenny gets it right.
11. Silver Lining – Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight (2007)
The album version of “Silver Lining” is a pop masterpiece. The above playlist includes a live version, though. According to Jenny, this is the best song she’s ever written.
12. The Moneymaker – Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight (2007)
Just as Jenny’s country album was a departure for her, Under the Blacklight is a huge change for Rilo Kiley’s sound. I remember reading an interview with her a while back that said they were aiming to make a polished pop album, and they definitely accomplished that. “The Moneymaker” is sexy as hell.
13. See Fernando – Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue (2008)
Such a badass music video! I don’t think I’ll ever get over Jenny’s first ~~solo~~ album, and it’s because of shit like this.
14. Black Sand – Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue (2008)
The yin to the yang of “See Fernando.” These two songs taken together should give you a feel for the album as a whole. “Black Sand” is a slow and sweet love song with a killer falsetto, but it’s still got that gritty raw power. Probably because the whole album was recorded live.
15. Big Wave – Jenny & Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now (2010)
My actual favorite! Honestly, the surf vibes / chillwave / I don’t know how genres work but go with me – can do no wrong in my book. This is the quintessential summer album, fall album, winter album, and sprint album. I’m never not in the mood for this song. Ever.
16. Just One of the Guys – Jenny & Johnny – Live on KCRW
I’ve only been able to find this song live. Jenny & Johnny released a live album through Third Man Records (Jack White’s label), but this version live on KCRW is as good as it gets. This is a song about being a grown ass woman who doesn’t have any children, and it speaks such truth. It’s also catchy as hell. One of the greats.
17. End of the Affair – Jenny & Johnny – Live on KCRW
So, this is a Jonathan Rice song, original from his 2007 album Further North, but they toured it in the Jenny & Johnny era, so I’ll shove it back here. This song has made me cry, more than once.
18. Patiently – Rilo Kiley – Rkives (2013)
In 2013, Rilo Kiley released an album of old B-sides and demos, and “Patiently” is probably my favorite song from the mix.
Taylor is a Los Angeles-based idiot with a degree in English from the University of Chicago. She wants to write your favorite TV show.