Today we welcome Jenny Lewis’ third solo album, The Voyager, and with it, the feelings that come with revisiting her complete discography in preparation and celebration.
The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman has, of course, been there (musically) for many of us, for what feels like forever. Whether through her lyrics in Take Offs and Landings or via the forceful, more playful sound of Acid Tongue, Lewis has indelibly etched her gifts onto our hearts and into our brains, making the arrival of The Voyager an exciting and overdue one.
That’s why we did this: a timeline of the songs and moments that best sum up her career —from indie EPs to solo artist extraordinaire.
1999: “The Frug”
It’s time to party like it’s 1999. That’s right: 15 years ago — at the dawn of the Willenium — Rilo Kiley released their first EP, which was initially self-titled and self-released, and soon got repressed as The Initial Friend EP. Tracks such as “The Frug” and “85” landed on the soundtrack for a movie called Desert Blue (starring Christina Ricci), helping to bring the L.A. quintet attention and acclaim.
2001: “Science vs. Romance”
Two years after catching music industry attention from Initial Friend, Rilo Kiley emerged with Take Offs and Landings, their debut full-length. Released under Rilo Records, then influential Seattle indie Barsuk Records, this album documented a rare dynamic in the band: one that saw Blake Sennett sing more than this record than on any other.
2002: “The Execution of All Things”
Then, one year later, Rilo Kiley returned with another full-length, only this time through Saddle Creek Records, and with more Lewis-centric songs. Lyrically, she dealt with her parents’ divorce, and vocally she took new risks. This was especially evidenced by “With Arms Outstretched,” a song that both opened (2005) and closed (2012) Weeds (and a song that is impossible for me to sing along to, and believe me, I’ve tried).
Weeds and Lewis actually had an ongoing relationship: in 2007, a cover of the series’ theme song was recorded by the singer-songwriter and her longterm partner, Jonathan Rice, and it opened episode 11 of season two in 2007. (Aw.)
And you know, while we’re at it, we might as well really drive the point home: Over ten years after the release of The Execution of All Things, Netflix used “A Better Son/Daughter” in their Orange is the New Black trailer.
2004: More Adventurous
But let’s stay on track, me. In 2004, Rilo Kiley released the still-much-beloved More Adventurous — an album that lived up to its name through its (slightly) political agenda, bolder sounds, and a near-complete obliteration of Blake Sennett as a vocalist. Except, of course, “Ripchord” — a song about the death of Elliott Smith — and in that case, bless.
But even in that case, “It Just Is” — another song about the death of Elliott Smith — was also helmed by Lewis. The times, they were a-changing.
A year later, and the album still delivered: the album’s lead single “Portions for Foxes” actually found itself in the opening scene of Grey’s Anatomy, which re-affirmed Rilo Kiley’s place in the mid-2000s cultural zeitgeist (and my place as someone who liked good music better than everyone else, MySpace friends).
2003: “Nothing Better” by The Postal Service
A quick flashback, though: just because Rilo Kiley was getting bigger and better didn’t mean Lewis was limiting herself to the band exclusively. With Blake Sennett focusing on The Elected and his eventual album, Sun, Sun, Sun, Jenny provided some backup vocals for Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello on their 2003 Postal Service album, Give Up. And that same year, from April to August, the gang toured the U.S., with Lewis in the lineup, save for one date.
Clearly, when they did it again in 2013, the world was psyched. Here’s Lewis duetting on “Nothing Better” with Gibbard.
2006: Rabbit Fur Coat
Do you know what else the world was psyched for? Jenny Lewis’ first official solo release, 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat , with the Watson Twins, an album that stemmed from Conor Oberst’s invitation to record for his label Team Love. And here’s why: While Rilo Kiley saw Sennett and Lewis sing about relationships, social dynamics, and familial strife, Lewis used Rabbit Fur Coat to delve into her child-actor past, her strained relationship with her mother, and her overt atheism. Rabbit Fur Coat marked Lewis’ chance to shine independently.
2007: Under the Blacklight
But all good things must come to an end. Sadly (especially for us diehards), 2007’s Under the Blacklight marked the end of Rilo Kiley (even though it took four years for the band to officially break up, in 2011). UTBL was another far cry from their earlier sounds—more pop, less rock, with melancholy disguised as good times. And while no one knew then that this would be the band’s last record, Rilo Kiley stepped into the 2007-2008 scene as an act who were brazenly unafraid.
2008: Acid Tongue
While Lewis’ second solo outing Acid Tongue didn’t receive the critical warmth of its predecessor, Rabbit Fur Coat, it still did three very important things: showcased Lewis’ fluidity as a performing artist, proved she was was keen to collaborate and challenge her existing formula, aaaand it gave us a new Jenny Lewis album. Co-produced by Jonathan Rice, and featuring Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward, Chris Robinson, and even Lewis’ little sister (among many others), Acid Tongue also did a wonderful job of delivering FOMO, but in the most country way possible. Like you didn’t just book a trip to Nashville.
2010: I’m Having Fun Now
Let’s be serious for the first time in our lives: after years spent singing about relationships gone awry and familial strife, Lewis deserved to write an album that had nothing to do with any of that. Enter: 2010’s Jenny & Johnny, a side project between Lewis and Rice, collaborators and power-couple extraordinaire. What they offered? Think sunshine, singable melodies, and being in l-o-v-e — but minus anything twee, and with the acknowledgement of actual adult fears and worries, thank Christ.
2014: The Voyager
Which brings us to today, and the release of Jenny Lewis’ third solo record, The Voyager—her first solo outing in six years.
She directed the video for the album’s biological-clock lead single, “Just One of the Guys,” starring Kristen Stewart, Brie Larson, and Anne Hathaway. Then, in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she explained that this record tackles the loss of Lewis’ father, two years of chronic insomnia, and the band’s break-up — which enabled her to make a record she’s justifiably excited for.
“I was always trying to make something different,” she told THR. “I felt limited, like I couldn’t rock too hard because it would be like cheating on Rilo Kiley. Working on The Voyager was different; I suddenly was a free woman — single and ready to mingle! We weren’t afraid to rock out.”