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Lilys: The 3 Way

The 3 Way

The context: After penning Lilys' 1991 debut single, the My Bloody Valentine tribute "February 14," bandleader Kurt Heasley launched a mercurial career that saw Lilys shifting from MBV-style shoegazer noise to indie-rock clatter and spacey dream-pop. In 1996, Heasley married his abstract song constructions to British Invasion-inspired riffs for Better Can't Make Your Life Better, an arty-but-tuneful record that boosted Lilys' profile internationally. Sire Records signed them to their first—and thus far only—major-label deal, apparently captivated by Lilys' retro hooks, while missing the conceptual elusiveness that led critic Robert Christgau to derisively describe their sound as "amplified watercolors."

The greatness: Heasley no doubt disappointed Sire by failing to write an MTV-ready hit, but like his beloved My Bloody Valentine, at least Lilys made the most of their chance to play with house money. The 3 Way is densely layered and brilliantly deconstructive, reinterpreting garage-rock the way a cubist might paint a bowl of fruit. Heasley's stream-of-consciousness lyrics rarely rhyme or even follow a common pattern, though those patient enough to wait out his familiar, yet maddeningly alien, idea of pop are rewarded with triumphant moments of cohesion.

Defining song: 3 Way's songs generally begin with a Kinks-y riff and then wander freely, giving the impression of a man channel-surfing through classic television and stopping whenever he sees teenagers dancing. On "Socs Hip," the first five seconds feature skittery Jackson 5 guitar, and the next 15 add a lush Herman's Hermits chorale. Then the song settles in for 30 seconds of flamenco-kissed acoustic balladry before a Duane Eddy guitar lick sets up the remaining six minutes of strings, harp, piano, sax, and a style ranging from doo-wop to barrelhouse. "Socs Hip" sounds like all the music from a typical Shindig episode, shattered and bent around a brittle, non-linear short story.