Monday, August 02, 2004


The Lilys are twisting and turning, trying to shake off whatever fanbase they managed to amass over the course of their strange career.

The latest episode:

When we last saw the Lilys in 2003, they had ditched much of the Kinks-inspired sound of their breakthrough album Better Can't Make Your Life Better and released the odd Precollection on the Manifesto label. Precollection is a strange album that sometimes sounds unfinished, though after listening to it a gazillion times I started to find it making sense.

Kurt Heasley's voice had roughened and widened out in the general direction of Robert Pollard and the crisp jingle and jangle of the 60's-revival days had merged with the woozy guitar of the Lilys' early days to create an odd mish-mash. The chord changes were still tricky as hell, but in a more understated way than in the exuberant "let's cram fifteen songs into two minutes" days of Better or The Three Way.

So how to follow that up? The obvious answer, if you're Kurt Heasley: re-release the album in Europe with different artwork, a different title, several re-mixes, and three new songs, on yet another new label. This time the label is Rainbow Quartz, a favorite stopping place for the 60's-inspired set and the album is called The Lilys.

Pity us poor Americans. Most of us missed the boat, at least initially, when the Lilys became huge blue jean-advertising stars in England and pulled a similar re-mix/expand trick with Better Can't Make Your Life Better. (If you still don't know, there's a souped up version that came out in the UK. Highly recommended. English people: your version is missing one song.) I wonder how many US fans are left with any interest in tracking down act two of Kurt's "if you love me, you'll buy the import" plot.

I'm intrigued enough by the band that I'm still following their every move. But, it's getting clearer and clearer that underneath everything, Kurt's really a prog-rock fan, in love with extended structure, sneaky melodies, and doofy lyrics. It's just that he keeps cramming all of these into very non-prog styles. Unfortunately, this tends to confuse people who think that because one day he sounds like, say, My Bloody Valentine or The Monkees, he belongs in the shoegaze or 60's pop wing of the indie museum. In fact, we may as well give in and admit that he's for Yes fans. And since I wore out a copy of Fragile before succumbing to the siren song of a borrowed copy of No New York, I'm on board. Up to a point: I can't shake the nagging feeling that this is music about chord changes, pure and simple, and that that kind of insularity is a dangerous path to follow at a time when the indie kids are thinking about dancing again.

But I still want to hear those chord changes. Here's one of the three new tracks: You're Getting Closer. And here's one of the more straightforward songs (it originally appeared on Precollection and it's unchanged on The Lilys) called Squares. That wacko progression that first pops up 35 seconds in is the kind of thing that ultimately separates this from Guided By Voices: I honestly don't think that Pollard is capable of writing that. Finally, here's an example of the often-strange production. It's called Mystery School Assembly, and I for one thought it was pretty darn boring the first few times I heard it, and I also wondered why the drum part sounds like it comes from a demo. Like most of Precollection/The Lilys, it grew on me.

In the end, I'd say that listening to this kind of feels like being a Pink Floyd fan in 1979, so you kind of have to decide if, metaphorically speaking, you want to be sitting alone in your room listening to Comfortably Numb on headphones while all your friends are out pogoing to the Gang of 4.

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