So I awake this morning, have my cigarette, and while checking my phone notice that the ANDROID VIRUS had texted me, bright and early. I open the text to find a picture of a band, being recommended by a Facebook occultism group of some kind: “If you like punk and/or occult mythology themes, you’ll enjoy this.” Hmmm, I pondered. ANDROID VIRUS had also sent a link and a message, basically describing it as being “weird pop punk with occult like themes,” requesting a review of this come next.
Occultic punk, you say? Count me in! I hit the link to see just what this is, as my interest had been piqued, two of my favorite things being promised in one package of sound. I’ve been on the hunt for some new, interesting darker punk infused music as of late, too, so this was working out stupendously. Suddenly, I didn’t mind waking up today.. New stuff, killer!
Well, I learned a long time ago that hope leads to expectation ultimately leads to disappointment *(not that I had any particularly grandiose hopes for this, but it seemed to have the possibility of satiating that itch to hear what I’m having trouble finding at the moment). SAMHAIN this is not. The uh oh feeling started when I saw who the band was: THE LILLINGTONS. It’s a name I’d heard before, though not entirely sure where. And the uh oh feeling came from some of the other acts that I’d seen this name associated with. In fact I may have even accidentally caught them live at some point. It was bugging me. Apparently, this was their first album in 11 years. Proceeding with a certain amount of a slight vague hope and trepidation, I figured it was time to let the day begin and hit play.
THE LILLINGTONS newest release, STELLA SAPIENTE, isn’t terrible. The first thing that caught me was the incredible resemblance in sound, and production, to some pioneering goth and post punk bands of the ‘80’s. At various moments throughout the disc, especially prevalent during the song intros, I could swear I was about to hear covers of BAUHAUS, THE CURE, JOY DIVISION, THE SISTERS OF MERCY, and even BILLY IDOL’S “White Wedding.” I found that interesting, and had they continued keeping in line with that I may have enjoyed this a bit more. But those particular influences are infused with their sound, more indicative of a darker form of the late ‘90’s pop punk stew from which they emerged. At that point in music, bands like GREEN DAY, BLINK 182 and RANCID had taken over the airwaves, mainstreaming what was for so many years the bastard child of rock n roll long chained in the attic. It severely changed and impeded upon what was left of punk rock at that time, influencing new music in very strange ways, primarily by thinning it’s blood.
Sad but true. And that’s what ultimately keeps me from really liking this, it’s too watered down. Lyrically, philosophically, it’s right up my alley, and I admittedly like hearing that in the music. But in the long run it ultimately comes off like a less dynamic +44 *(a project from the less annoying of the BLINK 182 guys) meets the ALKALINE TRIO – – – it feels like it teeters tenuously in *(what was then) emo territory, musically *(for the most part not lyrically, however). Which is fine, but absolutely a sound I just don’t like. I have to admit that my biggest issue is the vocals. They’re very cookie cutter, and of that emo punk style, bringing to mind bands like AIDEN and CHIODOS, minus the screaming. It’s that style of music. Nothing stands out, it’s all very bland. If not paying attention to the lyrics it would have been completely invisible to my ears.
THE LILLINGTONS are out of Newcastle, WY, and formed in 1995. Their career seems to have proceeded in a series of stops and starts, this being their most recent return from hiatus, and STELLA SAPIENTE is their first release since 2006. Upon their formation in’95 they released a 7”, and by 1996 whittled themselves down to a three piece, as guitarist ZACK RAWHAUSER left the band. The sound of their first full length, out on Clearview Records in 1996, bears little resemblance to how they sound now, though you can hear a logical growth upon comparison. At that time their lyrics were of the standard, emo-punk fashioned broken hearts variety. By the time they released their album DEATH BY STEREO *(which FAT MIKE of NOFX, and their current label, Fat Wreck Chords, refers to as “the best pop punk album of all time”) in ‘99, the band had grown a bit and reevaluated their lyrical content and song structures, and the refurbishment apparently worked in their favor as they began to take on more odd, phenomenological themes interspersed with the slightly more poetic, darker anti-love songs. *(Anyone not familiar with the origins of the word “Emo,” it came about in the ‘80s and was a satirical way to refer to punk bands who sang primarily about feelings as opposed to politics, sarcasm, or aggression. It applied to bands like HUSKER DU, and became one of the standout features of late ‘80’s DC hardcore. In fact, as I understand it, BRIAN BAKER, originally of MINOR THREAT, may have been the first person to propagate the term, applying it half-jokingly to his band at the time, DAG NASTY. I may have covered that before, I’m not entirely sure.)
Over the years THE LILLINGTONS have had some interesting associations with various forerunners of Midwest pop punk, including guitarist JOHN JUGHEAD *(EVEN THE BLACKOUTS, SCREECHING WEASEL, a band I’ve always thought were decent enough) and legendary vocalist/guitarist BEN WEASEL (SCREECHING WEASEL, THE RIVERDALES) himself, occasionally touring or performing with the band. In fact, sometime around 2001 I believe, MR. WEASEL popped up at a show at The Fireside in Chicago, IL, his first live appearance since ‘95. They were even signed to his label, Panic Button Records, for a period of time. Some of the members, too, perform in various side projects: Vocalist KODY TEMPLEMAN plays in Laramie, WY band TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET; Drummer TIMMY V. tours with ABQ, NM chick band THE EYELINERS, as well as doing his own project of DC styled hardcore called STABBED IN BACK.
As to the actual songs on STELLA SAPIENTE, I was partial to “Insect Dreams” *(it’s stunningly similar, in fact, to a story I published by writer GIL BAVEL in GRAVE DEMAND magazine in 2011, called “I Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind”), and “Zodiac” *(which I really like, incidentally), primarily. The lyrics are fairly interesting to the genre, largely concerning topics of the esoteric and the unseen, and it seems I’m noticing a lot of Thelemic themes in particular cropping up throughout the whole of the release. Strange rites, dark nights and arcane flights all make appearances here. As I mentioned, there are obvious gothic rock influences at play. “The Villager” bears a striking resemblance to BILLY IDOL’S “White Wedding” *(not goth, but certainly in the vein of the ‘80’s influences that carry this release) in format and structure, particularly the intro. The same can be said for “The Walker,” only replace BILLY IDOL with JOY DIVISION. “Pursuit of Pleasure” *(another song I found half decent) begins right out of the SISTERS OF MERCY handbook, then becomes +44. I think that’s what frustrates me about this, has me a bit torn. The vocal style just doesn’t fit, throws everything off. Why all the whining? The opening track, “Golden Dawn / Knights Templar” is a solid starter, sounding at first like BAUHAUS, then *(interestingly enough) reminiscent of the 69 EYES, but not cool, and with those damned vocals. They just wholly remove me from any atmosphere being built.
As I stated this isn’t bad, not at all; it’s just not entirely my thing. That said I listened several times, and with a very open mind, distancing myself as much as possible from any preset musical biases, listening to everything that passes my way as an unheard blank slate, with as little prior judgement as possible. *(That is my review process in general.) This album does have its market, I can hear it, and they seem to have had an interesting staying power in what can be a very fly-by-night genre. The fan base I see being drawn to this are those pear shaped chicks draped from head to toe in Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise, faces all slathered with cheap, cakey, clumpy, ill-applied black makeup. That’s not an insult, just an observation, and testimony that they do have a draw. For as dark and off kilter as the lyrics and sound may occasionally be, ultimately this is just safe. What little in the way of a passion there is comes off as incredibly manufactured. And that’s what this is, what a lot of music that falls under the genre of punk has become, alternative ideas and emotions presented in a manufactured, safe way, completely sanitized, almost sheltering the listener and and far too concerned with Political Correctness rather than honesty. At best, the lines can be a bit blurry.
And it finally hit me, I had seen and heard them before. Back in 2006 I was working in home remodeling, and there was this kid I worked with, Keith. Being a younger punk type, we used to playfully jab at each other about music. He would play THE LILLINGTONS occasionally on the job, and we did go to a music festival one weekend in 2006, whereupon they were on the lineup with bands like CHIODOS, AIDEN, AFI, H.I.M, FROM FIRST TO LAST and others of that ilk. No real memories of any performances, just my deep-boring disappointment and smacked-face realization of what music had become.
Those who this is meant for, by and large, I feel, would find something like CANCERSLUG, POISON IDEA, original CHRISTIAN DEATH, or even the ANGRY SAMOANS, not only baffling but thoroughly abhorrent. And that’s no sleight to the band, none of this is. STELLA SAPIENTE just doesn’t stand out to me. Rather, it fades into the sound of 1,000 indiscernible bands. It’s just not meant for me. If you’re looking for a catchy, modernly pop punky, lightweight darkness that does present some interesting ideas *(my favorite part of this and something I’m all for), then this may be the thing. If this is what you consider punk rock, then this may be the thing. If you like a little more alcohol-per-volume to your volume in your musical mixed drink, this is not the place.
Thanks for reading. 93.
Check out more with The Lillingtons at the following: