Sounds Just Like Awesome

90s rockers the Lilys ripped off pretty much every band ever

Thing about the Lilys is that you either love them for being truly awesome at soaking up the sounds of other, older, better-known bands—uncannily emulating everyone from My Bloody Valentine to the Kinks to the Smiths to the Zombies—or you really, really fucking hate them for being such spineless sponges and shameless rip-offs. And there's not much middle ground between fond appreciation and blinding hatred: both naysayers and fans alike kick around the same names when discussing singer/songwriter/guitarist Kurt Heasley—the only permanent member of the Lilys—and the rest of band, but the only thing they can actually agree on is that Heasley's somewhat of an artistic thief.

Truthfully, though, artistic borrower might be a better phrase. When the Philadelphia band released their debut full-length, In the Presence of Nothing, in the early '90s—a year after My Bloody Valentine's all too well-known Lovelessfirst graced our presence—the similarities were undeniable. Tracks like the ultra dreamy "Tonebender" featured all the right shoegazer prerequisites, drowning the listener in a familiar sea of atmospheric musical romanticism: swirly guitars, feedback, indistinct lyrics, non-descript vocals and all that other stuff you already know about. But while Nothing might sound a hell of a lot like My Bloody Valentine, well, shit: remember who My Bloody Valentine sounds like?

There are few bands currently gigging on this planet that have escaped charges of ripping off one band or another. It's what musicians do, and what fans bitch about. Still, it is possible to rip off one band too many, as the Lilys did in 1996, switching genres—and leaping back a few decades—to ape the Kinks on Better Can't Make Your Life Better. Hints of the aforementioned guitar swirliness remain on Better, but mostly it is an amalgam of mid-'60s garage pop (ŗ la oh, let's say the Apples in Stereo). "Shovel into Spade Kit" even features an irresistible, toe-tapping, cadenced fuzzy riff—that, come to think of it, sounds a hell of a lot like the riff in Wire's 1977 track, "Three Girl Rhumba," too—with some Davies-y vocals and strangely befitting Sgt. Pepper's-eque orchestral dabbling.

Somehow okay/ Photo by Nate Sherman
Somehow okay/ Photo by Nate Sherman

That move cost Heasley and co. more than a few devoted fans, but now, 15 years after their first EP, the Lilys are back with Everything Wrong is Imaginary.And while it's not quite the ground-shattering career comeback many hoped it would be, Heasley doesn't seem to have deviated from his ear-pleasing hybrids. I know we're supposed to hate bands that sound too much like other bands, but the difference with the Lilys is that they do it so blatantly and so shamelessly that it's somehow rendered okay. It also doesn't hurt that they're drawing major influences from all the "right" bands: on Imaginary,there's everything from Beck ("A Diana's Diana") and the Talking Heads ("With Candy") to, yes, of course, our old friends My Bloody Valentine. Sounds just like awesome.

The Lilys play the at the Prospector, 2400 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 438-3839; www.prospectorlongbeach.com. Thurs., July 13, 8 p.m. Call for cover. 21+

 
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