On the Elected's 2004 debut, Me First, frontman Blake Sennett and his supporting cast of Saddle Creek usual suspects dug up the classic California dusty-pop recipe, tossed in some pale lo-fi undertones alongside Sennett's smooth, gentle voice, and delivered an excellent debut that made for a suitable loaner on days when your Beachwood Sparks record was in the shop. Like many debuts, Me First was the proverbial pie cooling on the windowsill: Sure, it lured you in with a heavenly smell, and its warm interior was delicious, but let it develop fully and that delayed gratification tastes great.
Sun, Sun, Sun isn't as precious as its predecessor, but it stillcracks with enough fragility to keep the Bright Eyes and Elliot Smith comparisons rolling in. The subtle electro-accompaniment on the debut has been ditched, replaced with beefed-up amps and an up-tempo classic-rock sound full of naked analog warmth. And it seems that Sennett, who also sings and plays guitar in Rilo Kiley, is settling into his role as frontman. Here, he steps further out of the shadow cast by his main band's frontwoman, Jenny Lewis, and his confident songwriting lets things grow grander and more polished. Before, he was the wet-behind-the-ears bedroom troubadour; now he conveys rode-hard-and-put-away-wet band leader - a hard sell considering his boyish looks (not enhanced by the creepy stash he sports on the album's insert) and child-TV-star past (he was on Boy Meets World, among others).
Officially, the Elected is Sennett, multi-instrumentalist Mike Bloom, bassist Daniel Brummel and drummer Ryland Steel. But this four-piece swelled with guests during the multi-city recording process. There are four different horn players credited on the record, and even lyrical advice given to the frontman on a few songs gets documented. (Lewis pitched in some words on "Fireflies in a Steel Mill" and "Bank and Trust.") Written and recorded while Sennett was on the road with Rilo Kiley, the album's tone and lyrical themes are a natural translation of the transience experienced by a life out on tour.
The backbone of Sun, Sun, Sun is right up front: Built around the feeling of disconnect between a couple doomed by perpetual motion, third track "Fireflies in a Steel Mill" is the band's finest hour. Driven from the start by Sennett's elegant vocals, the track quivers with a minimal piano progression, cautiously picked guitar and beautifully executed harmonies. But in adherence to the new full-band feel, the chorus punches up the time and drags in a trumpet and flugel horn to the fray while the drums that were shuffling shyly in the background assert themselves. On the following track, "Not Going Home," the Elected gets downright anthemic, with hooks galore and easily identifiable lyrics. It may conjure up that cliché-stuffed gag-athon Almost Famous, but it'll be hard to contain your sing-along instincts when cranking this chorus in your car: "I'm not going home/ Sometimes you just wouldn't dare/ Sometimes you can't go home/ Sometimes you're already there."
All told, Sun, Sun, Sun is a sweeping piece of music. When the songs are spare nothing feels left out, and when they're grandiosely band-heavy not one harmony or piano fill comes off as pilled on. Put on a pot of coffee, thaw out some ice cream and dig in. This pie is good to go.
"Not Going Home" MP3