Better Can't Make Your Life Better
(Primary/Elektra)
originally appeared in Milk, by Jeff Norman


Postmodernism? You're soaking in it. The idea of utter originality in our internetted, wide-webbed world is pretty well played-out - better instead to scavenge, make like mad DNA, and recombine whatever's out there. Case in point: this CD. Kurt Heasley (sole constant Lilys member) seems to work rather like a defective xerox machine: raw (or cooked, chewed, and digested) material is fed in, something closely resembling it emerges, but always a bit different, always recognizably a product of the particular machine. Claiming that this recording - which almost could have come out in 1966 rather than 1996 - is "unoriginal" rather misses the point. The issue is: what gets done with the apparently familiar raw materials?

In this case, quite a lot. While opener "Cambridge California" might as well be titled "Last Eight Miles to Clarksville," it's also a damned fine song. Although the Byrdsian electric 12-string heard to worthy effect on the last album's "Your Guest and Host" is a touchstone for much of this music, garage-rock, Pet Sounds Beach Boys, even Santana (!) flavor the songs on this disc as well. Lilys' arrangements create interesting collisions as well: "Shovel into Spade Kit" finds a couple of straggling horn players from Sgt. Pepper's band rudely shoving aside Dave Davies and jamming ten seconds of Salvation Army jazz with some goateed, shades-wearing, black-clad bongo player in the corner. Cognoscenti of '60s music will have as much fun with this disc as with the Dukes of Stratosphear ("Hey! Isn't that string arrangement from Forever Changes?"), but like a pitcher in a time-warp, Heasley throws a few non-period curves at the listener. For instance, a Polvo guitar line pokes its jagged little head right through the surrealistic pillow of "The Tennis System (and its Stars)."

Finally, all of the Lilys' output shares Kurt Heasley's somewhat eccentric notions of harmony, phrasing, and structure, which remain recognizable beneath all of the band's perhaps bewildering changes of stylistic wardrobe. Unwilling to hem himself in to any one style, Heasley proves here that his band is one to watch. - by Jeff Norman

View the original online review right here.

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