recollection, The Lilys’ sixth album, is another frustrating effort from what is maybe the most frustrating band of the last ten years. Masterminded by lead singer/songwriter Kurt Heasley, the Lilys have had one of the oddest musical histories of any band in recent memory. They started out, like so many bands did in the early-mid 90s, as My Bloody Valentine clones. Their first album, In the Presence of Nothing, was essentially a continuation of the formula Kevin Shields perfected with Loveless—waves of guitars crashing over minimal drums, with uninterested vocals floating over the haze. However, from this time period, two songs emerged that practically defined the word transcendental—“Claire Hates Me” and “Ginger.” These two songs, while still MBV-influenced (albeit more from Isn’t Anything than Loveless), found their own method of attack apart from mere mimicry. Poppier than anything done previously in the shoegazing scene, the songs were truly delectable combinations of various inspirations, but more importantly, they suggested that the Lilys were capable of being a band of distinction.
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.