PRECOLLECTION (May 20th, 2003 on Manifesto)
Kurt Heasley, Michael Walker, Gerhardt Koerner, Steven Keller,Torben Pastore and Don Devore
Here is the Manifesto page on the album: http://www.manifesto.com/lilys.html
by Robert Hickey
Their major label debut, Better Can't Make Your Life Better, should have made Lilys into alternative pop icons. It's a great CD, sounding like something the Kinks would have made had Ray Davies embraced psychedelia instead of taking up charter membership in the Village Green Preservation Society. From start to finish, the record has an electric vitality and ebullience that was largely lacking in the grunge-laden mid-'90s.
Clearly, the band's beatification didn't happen. Their follow-up, the equally British-invasion inspired The 3-Way was quietly released into obscurity. Lilys and their label parted ways. Aside from a few stray tracks, band leader Kurt Heasley and his revolving troupe of musicians have remained silent since.
Precollection marks Lilys' full-length return to an independent label, and their first new album in four years. It's a major departure from their previous two '60s-influenced pop records, but as those familiar with the band know, Kurt Heasley has a restless muse. Before embracing the sounds of the Kinks and the Small Faces, Lilys made My Bloody Valentine-like squalls of feedback, and Stereolab-esqe experimental pop. With Precollection, Heasley's interest has turned to late-'80s UK indie-rock.
Prior to this album, Heasley was very successful at taking his influences and making their sound his own. That's not the case here. Things begin disappointingly with the title-track, a moderately successful attempt at a Smiths' song, minus Johnny Marr's remarkable guitar. It's a genuine shock to hear a band that produced exceptionally lively material turning out a song with such obviously earnest intentions. As the next track, the elegiac and overlong "Melusina", demonstrates, Lilys' playfulness is gone. Although the spare acoustic arrangement displays Heasley's newfound seriousness, it leaves a thin song sounding thinner.
Elsewhere, "Mystery School Assembly" offers up a dirge over an oddly recorded percussion, its sound bleeding badly into the red, leaving a crashing, distorted noise. At one point, Heasley sings, "Something something something something", as though he's fumbling for half-remembered lyrics, before resolving the line: "Something isn't there". A listener might be inclined to agree, especially after hearing "Meditations on Speed". On this track, Heasley's preening vocals are buried in the mix as the band plays a song that could be mistaken for a sloppy cover of the Dandy Warhol's "Bohemian Like You", minus the hooks.
It's not all bleak. "Will My Lord Be Gardening" features a delicate melody and an uplifting chorus. Mike Musmanno's production works against the song, pushing the unimaginatively played drums and bass too high in the mix, but it doesn't negate the tune's pleasures. "Dunes" is an equally strong song, and its evocation of walking hand in hand on a sandy beach offers a rare moment of sunshine in an uncharacteristically dark record.
With its uncomfortable marriage of '60s melodicism, '80s angularity, and '90s slacker production, along with Kurt Heasley's recently acquired solemnity, Precollection is a rare misstep for Lilys. Hopefully, it's the work of a band shedding its former incarnation on its way to something equally brilliant, rather than an album by a group that's just decided to settle for less.
News and Review
By Jackson Griffith
Once upon a time, there was an anglophile from
Philadelphia named Todd Rundgren, whose early efforts with his group
Nazz took British mod--the Who, the Kinks and the Move--and added a
rhythmic pulse straight out of Motown. That may provide a context for
the rampant anglophilia of new Philly resident Kurt Heasley, whose
group Lilys takes the dewy-morning optimism of early Who and the
rapier-like pop of the Kinks and refracts them through the forward
movement of Nazz, the kaleidoscopic lens of XTC and, occasionally, the
inebriated tunelessness of the Smiths. When it works--“Will My Lord
Be Gardening,” “Mystery School Assembly,” “Squares” and
“Perception Room”--Heasley and his Lilys can cast quite a spell. Precollection
may take a few plays to enthrall you, but it’ll be time well-spent.
Album Review - Precollection
Kurt Heasley and his band may fool newcomers to the party by sounding very British, but this American band proudly wears such British influences as the Kinks, My Bloody Valentine, and Teardrop Explodes on its sleeve. Precollection, their first full-length release since 1999, is an impressive, mature effort that expands a predictable Brit-pop sound into something with varied textures, shades and nuance. The title track opens the disc with a riotous bloom of pop color. It's followed by sprawling, delicate gems. Things pick up with the energetic, insistent "Squares." The bounce of big drums and the shimmer of jangly guitars on "Perception Room" results in a magical pop moment. You have to wait until track eight for the roiling, Modern Lovers-esque number, "Meditations on Speed," which takes Best of Show. Are those keyboards a nod to the Doors? Who knows, but it's a brilliant track either way.
ALBUM REVIEW - Precollection
By Rob O'Connor
The cultural exchange program initiated between Great Britain and United States back in the 1960s has birthed some pretty odd combinations. Brits gone cowboy, cowboys gone shoegazer, and punks everywhere singing about a social caste system no one except for Ray Davies understands. Lilys, after years of being booted from indie labels to majors just to be ignored, is essentially Kurt Heasley and the musicians he knows in the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, getting a groove on that starts with the Velvet Underground (check "Meditations On Speed" for its "Sister Ray" chug and organ) and then mutates into the starry gaze of a thousand British expatriates longing for home with melodies that shimmer and glide and ask profound questions like "Will My Lord Be Gardening"? It's not unlike Robyn Hitchcock wearing funny hats with just a touch of the Fall's Mark E. Smith stopping by to enunciate some dissonant touchstone.
Lilys - Precollection
By Jeff Newman
Release Date: May 20, 2003
The Lilys' musical career began with an American interpretation of shoegazing, giving audiences a good drenching in atmosphere and layered guitars. Then came the all-out exploration of all things 60s: garage, psychedelia, British invasion, and so on and so on. If one is to believe past incarnations of the Lilys, Kurt Heasley hasn't met a genre he hasn't been happy to loot and pillage. After a bout of 60s guitar pop, Precollection sees Lilys moving closer to the end of the 20th century in terms of musical influences, if only by a decade.
Gone are the layered guitars and the walls of sound. Instead, Precollection greets the listener with songs crisp enough to be the crease on Paul Weller's Jam-era trousers. And that's exactly where this album seems to come from -- The Jam, by way of the Smiths with a dash of Ziggy Stardust just to be safe. The production is crisp and straight ahead. The guitars are rarely given permission to layer, and all solos are kept short and firmly in check.
This is an album of open, honest tunes that will definitely translate into a wonderful live show, but all of this comes at the expense of the atmosphere. Everything on this album is so up-front and controlled that there's almost no reason to sit back and really listen to it. What you hear is what you get. Fans of In the Presence of Nothing-era Lilys will probably find little to whet their appetites here, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. "Preception Room" is a stunning composition, both driving and beautiful at the same time. "Will My Lord Be Gardening" is a wonderful blast of pastoral bliss and benefits from the amazing variety that Heasley is able to pull from his voice. Lilys have given us a beautiful album, but there is something going on here that keeps the album from being great, perhaps it's because the production style seems to have been so uniformly applied across the whole album. So, while each song is distinct and unique, it's very hard for one track to stand out from the crowd.
When Lilys get their "Behind the Music" it will probably be the early years that get the most attention, however Precollection will always be remembered for the quality of the songcraft and Heasley's continued reinvention of Lilys sound and exploration of his own potential as a writer.
Eccsame the Photon Band delivered on that promise. It did not take the direction of “Claire” and “Ginger,” as one might have hoped, but it finally fulfilled Heasley’s goal of matching the sort of singular, unbroken and out of time sound of an album like Loveless. It was an extremely minimal album, ditching the wall of guitars almost completely, and ending up close in sound to Bedhead. It was not influenced by shoegazing as a genre, but rather as a principle. It was a masterpiece of mood, atmosphere and production. And ultimately, it cemented the Lilys as a great band, and justly got them signed to a major label.
But then the first major label releases came out and changed everything. Jettisoned were the innovation and distinction of “Claire,” “Ginger” and Eccsame. Instead, it seemed Heasley became more interested in remaking The Village Green Preservation Society except without the hooks, originality or songwriting smarts. Two straight albums of songs so unremarkable that after ten or twenty listens, you still can’t remember how a single one goes were the unfortunate result.
Precollection follows these two disasters, Better Can’t Make Your Life Better and The Three-Way, and is preceded also by two EPs and a contribution to the Bliss Out series on Darla records. Thankfully, the record is significantly more distinctive than either of the last two. The band retains their 60s influences, but adds an 80s alternative spin, some singer/songwriter touches, and creates an overall sound that is the closest the band has come to creativity since Eccsame.
Unfortunately, the songs still just aren’t that memorable. The Smiths by way of Forever Changes title track that opens the album is rocking enough, “Perception Room” is their catchiest number since “The Hermit Crab,” and “Will My Lord Be Gardening” has loveliness to spare, but apart from that, you’ll be lucky if one or two other songs ever really stick.
Precollection is a step in the right direction for the band. The Lilys have re-entered the key to the band’s sound—the drums. The drums provided the pulse for almost all of the Lilys’ best work, especially on Eccsame, and their sheer pound is rediscovered here, more memorable than any of the guitar hooks or choruses. And, unlike the last two releases, there is even some variety on the album. But, knowing what the Lilys are capable of, the “sum of the parts being exactly equal to the whole” quality of Precollection is still more than a little bit maddening.
Lilys have finally found their sound
For The Inquirer
Ask Lilys founder Kurt Heasley about his group's transformation from woozy shoe-gazers to mod-pop revivalists, or about his reputation as a roguish eccentric, and the Fishtown resident will respond with an existentialist monologue that usually opens a Pandora's box of other issues.
But ask him how many members have passed through the Lilys' ranks in the band's 13 years and Heasley, 31, is succinct.
"Sixty-three," he says without hesitation. And he claims he can name them all, a list that includes local artist manager-booking magnate Bryan Dilworth, Beachwood Sparks drummer Aaron Sperske, and producer-Pernice Brothers bassist Thom Monahan.
The Lilys' current incarnation came together while recording their fifth and best album (along with assorted singles and EPs), Precollection (Manifesto), which was released Tuesday.
Where the band sounded utterly submerged in My Bloody Valentine's waves of processed guitar psychedelia on its 1992 debut, In the Presence of Nothing, and a little too Kinkslike on 1996's Better Can't Make Your Life Better, a solid identity is forged on Precollection.
Heasley's still not too proud to borrow, though. His vocal affectation on the title track is pure Morrissey, and wigged-out acoustic songs such as "Melusina" resonate with Donovan's transcendental mellowness. But aided by Philly-based producer Mike Musmanno, what was once precious mimicry now sounds more like dignified interpretation.
"I was an imagination technician at the point of [1999's] The 3-Way," Heasley says. "I thought I had it all worked out, channeling youthful passion, but [it was] not to be.
"In my history... this is the best and closest I've gotten to what it is that I need to be working on."
Amanda Petrusich, May 27th, 2003
Within every contemporary record reviewer lies the knee-jerk critical impulse to articulate and describe via contextualization: to frantically establish a massive, webby paradigm of music past, present, and future, and then to neatly (and accurately) place each CD sitting in his/her respective stack within that ridiculous, elaborate map. Here's the thing: most of the time, the Lilys sound an awful lot like the late-60s, mod-rocking Kinks. Frontman Kurt Heasley has channeled Ray Davies so expertly that it's impossible not to half-expect the guy to bust out "Lola" every time a new track opens. Heasley sings with a distinctly fey Brit clip, despite hailing from less-than-Cockney Philadelphia, and he and 1969-Davies even sport the same suit and haircut. Self-parody? Blind idol worship? Preemptively striking at critics?
There are a handful of other folk-pop-psychedelic influences (from the Beatles to My Bloody Valentine to The Apples in Stereo) evident in the Lilys' electro-acoustic buzz, although, ultimately, context proves stoically unimportant. The Lilys' slot in the ever-growing matrix of recorded music is, happily, very much their own, and Precollection, the band's eighth full-length, is far from being blatantly derivative or embarrassingly footnoted. For the most part, the Lilys' melodic strumming and driving percussion is addictively palatable and, occasionally, surprisingly innovative.
Heasley is the sound-defining double helix of the Lilys, and the peripheral players rotate from album to album, almost incidentally. Precollection sees Heasley drawing from his own varied discography nearly as extensively as he draws from his record collection, and many of the tracks here reflect and refine past experiments, now imbued with a new sense of coherency and artistic vision. "Perception Room" weds Heasley's early-90s fascination with meandering, shoegazing space rock to his poppier sensibilities, and the result is dark, rhythm-heavy, and shiftily melodic, a song that would have been startlingly comfortable on late-80s college rock radio, alongside cuts by R.E.M. and the Church.
"Meditations on Speed" is a muscular tangle of acoustic strums and electric fuzz, quiet, occasionally inaudible vocals (Heasley sheds his Davies skin when he hops into higher registers, but the resulting whine can be difficult to discern over this track's throb-throb bass) and merry, driving organ. Like almost every song on Precollection, "Meditations" is held together by an incessant, uncompromising rhythmic assault; there very few holes, gaps, or pauses for breath. Silence plays a minimal role (at best) and if these songs had been less skillfully assembled, they might seem impenetrably thick. But Heasley's grown into an expert songsmith, and although not all of Precollection's ten tracks are wholly distinct, each does offer something unique for your time: an unexpected drumbeat, a lone guitar wail, an oddly timed burst of vocals.
Precollection's title track (and opener) sees Heasley suggesting, convincingly, to "become what you are." It's an especially apt new beginning for a musician finally working out his ambitions and channeling them into something both resonant and entirely coherent. Achieved nearly ten years after the band's inception, this is a bright start for Heasley's Lilys.
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