Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
There's quite a difference between bohemianism and what The Elected's Blake Sennett filled his band's latest album, Sun, Sun, Sun, with. Bohemianism is predominantly for bands somewhat similar to the ones that Sennett's used to be in just a few years ago, which choose to wear themselves to the bone for artistic purposes, to voluntarily live lives of meagerness and have nothingness so as to achieve solemnity in purpose. It's karmic. It's what has to be done to make any art that's worth a shit, they say. It's one of the reason's The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and his wife still live in the same dumpy house they bought in the Oklahoma City ghetto years ago for $40,000 or whatever it was. It's why Pete Doherty of Babyshambles lives in hellholes, is impossibly wretched and still lands a foxy Kate Moss for a playmate. Without some kind of strife, there is a shortage of artistic matter to trace upon. By now, Sennett is not living hand-to-mouth (if he ever was) thanks to the success of Rilo Kiley (for which the anticipation of a new record is positively killing a lot of people) and this, his side project, and though he's surrounded by the modern bohemianism of Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood, what he's procured for a sophomore effort is devilishly close to what Steinbeck would have taken a stab at writing had he more of an access to wryness in prose and a dimension of modern times that would have thrown more recreational sex into stories.
All the scoring -- making love in a van, a whole song about the one girl who's ever done him good -- is overshadowed on the album by a general direction of keeping unfortunately on the wrong side of prosperity. There's a sense that we're bouncing around from body to body and landing in one situation after another where a depression (not a Great one, just a garden variety one) has cast its gray glow over everyone. There are poor jobs and scads of the working wounded, barely keeping afloat, but able to get along with some sort of tenacity or rose-colored set of glasses that make lemonade out of those lemons. There exists a belief that relief has got to be coming because things couldn't get too much worse. It's this thought that keeps characters sane and gives them the disjointed and seemingly odd ability to consider this a dream worth having -- just a little more, a bone to gnaw on, some warm water to mask the hunger pangs. If things get just a mite better, prayers have been answered. The littlest scraps of good news are enough for sore eyes and empty ears in these ghost towns, with their lonely grain elevators, small cafÃ© that perpetually reeks of hash browns and coffee grounds and a widespread nicotine addiction -- mostly to speed up death. It feels Midwestern. It feels like North Dakota and Kansas -- particularly Wichita and its surrounding area. There's a sense that life's better elsewhere from where these songs take place, but there's a tethering to the dead weight. It's an anchor, but there's still value in living that life because doing otherwise would require facing some fears that are quiet when they're just left undisturbed, like those wasps and that sleeping dog.
Sennett appears to have a hold on this kind of heartland-ish dilemma and drama, where futility is easy to come by and those actually keeping score need not the ability to count very high. He's acted out a sting on this drama, lifting it from its natural habitat and taken it to his workshop. Where he came to understand these things, or in the least, pretend to understand them -- the wayward souls, the spinning wheels and the lowered expectations -- is unbeknownst to any of us and it really doesn't fucking matter. He's an ACT-or (typed in Jon Lovitz's voice, the same one he now uses to encourage us to eat fresh in Subway commercials). Excitement, if it should ever happen in the places that the songs on Sun, Sun, Sun are from, is abbreviated. Sennett's talent, however, is to give the melancholy as much playing time as the gloomy, pregnant dark skies. There's a lot of poignancy in the lines that Sennett penned here and the contemporary treatment his version of countrified folk takes lends itself to few comparisons that hold much water. The closest companion is his Rilo Kiley bandmate Jenny Lewis, who tapped into the veins of hard luckers with a solo debut that was released on the same day as Sun, Sun, Sun. They both make the lives feel like their own, even when that's impossible to believe. Now that's bohemian.