In the winter of 2006, my friend Alex made a cassette mix for me to listen to in my car. I had recently broken up with my girlfriend, and had spent several years in music listening purgatory (replaying the same old records over and over again with little interest or drive to care about any new music). On this tape was “Ginger” by Lilys, the first track off 1994’s near perfect A Brief History Of Amazing Letdowns 10″. A masterpiece of mid 90s power pop with driving, layered guitars and mopey vocals with obtuse, love-oriented lyrics bound to get any young twenty something emotional (i.e. “she comes and goes but she mostly goes”…sigh), this song single handedly rejuvenated my interest in music. So naturally, I’ve had a great amount of affection for Kurt Heasley (i.e. Lilys, who is essentially one man with a rotating cast of others) ever since. Working backwards chronologically, I got my hands on a (digital) copy of Lilys first LP, 1992’s In the Presence of Nothing, which was originally released on Slumberland Records with a limited press of 500.◊
In the Presence of Nothing is a shoegaze record through and through♣, and retrospectively one of the great American ‘gaze records, derivative of the UK born and based movement but unique in its own appropriation and timing.≡ Embracing the Loveless game plan, the record’s got mad pop hooks buried underneath layers of effected guitars and noise, and also isn’t afraid to up the tempo to punk rock speed for some songs (which is something I’d wish more bands of this era/style had done†). In the end, one of the most intriguing things about the record is that it’s a stylistic one-off for Heasley. After In the Presence of Nothing, as the final track “Claire Hates Me” indicates, he would jump ship to a more popular, guitar driven power pop sound (joining Dinosaur Jr., Yo La Tengo, et al). But even then, he wouldn’t stay long, and by the latter half of the decade Heasley had shifted fully into retro 60s rock mode, putting out Kinks send ups left and right. So maybe the greatness of In the Presence of Nothing lies in the fact that it was a one-night-only affair for Lilys with no future chance of repeating or expanding, or because it’s been out of print for about as long as it’s been out, or also maybe because one of my all time favorite songs was written by the dude who wrote it (even if that song was off a different record). Whatever the case may be, all or none, this record is totally fucking great.
— Eric Marsh
◊ According to the internet, there was also a spinART reissue in 1998, but finding the vinyl copy of that, at least for a reasonable price, is just as fleeting.
♣ Song titles include “Tone Bender” … “Collider” … “Elizabeth Colour Wheel” (note: girl’s name, British spelling of color) … those are some classic ‘gaze song titles if I must say so.
≡ American ‘gaze bands weren’t always the best, but they seemed to be much more adventurous and interesting than the lads oversees – I’d throw In the Presence of Nothing, along with Blonder Tongue Audio Baton and They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons by Swirlies, Shot Forth Self Living by Medicine, Beat by Bowery Electric, bloweyelashwish by Lovesliescrushing, et al., as examples of excellent American shoegaze.
† Basically I want every song to sound like and/or be as fast as “Breather” by Chapterhouse.
Lilys: In the Presence of Nothing (1992)
1. There’s No Such Thing as Black Orchids
2. Elizabeth Colour Wheel
4. Tone Bender
6. It Does Nothing For Me
7. Snow Blinder
8. The Way Snowflakes Fall
9. Threw a Day
10. Claire Hates Me