(Fat Wreck Chords)
Once upon a time, The Lillingtons were content to admire The Ramones and write music in that vein. And ain’t nothing wrong with that. The Lillingtons, since 1996, were damn good at melodic, hook-soaked punk rock ‘n’ roll. Simple songs, yet infectious as hell, the band released four albums. As they progressed, they developed their own signature sound, which held an ominous portentous vibe. 1999’s Death By Television is a classic. Their 2006 release, The Too Late Show, boasted two classics, like genre transcending “Vaporize My Brain” and “All I Hear is Static.” And then The Lilllingtons decided rest was needed. The band was decommissioned. 2017 sees the unholy resurrection and a welcome rejuvenation, as the band have taken their foundation of melodic punk, but approached Stella Sapiente with an ardent ’80s adoration, infusing more dynamics into their songs.
Stella Sapiente maintains the foreboding presence which The Lillingtons’ albums have cultivated. And then the band doubles down. Utilizing many echoing ’80s guitar lines, a new dimension is explored in The Lillingtons’ music. The lyrics are all about the eerie and haunting as usual, but a specific focus on secret societies and mysteries are the focus. The opener “Golden Dawn/ Knights Templar” is a stark declaration. “Night Visions” is a concrete ’80s infusion, guitars swirling in a miasma of reverb. The surfy pluck is cool and offsetting. Let’s not forget, a Friday the 13th in October is Stella Sapiente’s release date!
The dissonant guitar of ’80s somber canon; especially, Joy Division, The Cure, The Church, The The, a little Television; think Tiger Army’s infusion of The Smiths into their rockabilly on Ghost Tigers Rise. “Night Visions”, again, holds the feel of a drum machine, but still gives that extra spark, that snap, that live drums provide. Swirling and repeating guitar lines are the foundation, but layers grow within the song so it builds and builds.
The darkness of Death By Television and The Too Late Show fashioned securely, Stella Sapiente still packs quick punches with fast punk songs. The second track, “Insect Nightmares,” and “K6” are killer tracks. The gem – and first single, “Zodiac” is a brilliant trek; a classic mid paced, melodic Lillingtons. All the aspects of my favorite song, “Black Hole in My Mind” are there. Toward the end of the LP, the one fast one for side B, “They Live,” is fast and frenetic. This one is a real punch – dark and classic Lillingtons. These tracks are still clean, polished punk; well written and engaging. Just more familiar to old fans. The production does give the sound a large, grand presence. All elements are mixed cleanly and give separate attention to each instrument.
Another stand out is “London Fog,” which is a courser, fiercer track with sharp riffs and a pounding chorus. The Lillingtons are always employing “whoas” and harmonies. Whether you call it melodic punk, pop punk (which I would resist), or simply “catchy” – never read that as “soft.” Even the slowest track, is dark and subversive. The melodies are undeniable. But the dominant feeling for the listener is that of finding a peephole into a clandestine meeting. One’s spine is tense and fraught.
Lillingtons are delving into ’80s, staying quiet for side B. Or rather the play with tempo and energy. They temper certain sections while letting free of fetters at other times. And this is within the same song. For “London Fog,” they bend between more aggressive instrumentations after quieter openings, all of which are under melodic singing. The dichotomy plays well after laying low. “Cult of Dagon” is just slow and atmospheric, it’s a cool break. While what follows, “Villagers,” is the sound of Scandal, Pat Benatar, and an emulation of Billy Idol; a straight ’80s pulse with bells and momentary guitar chord strums. It grows into a rougher approach by the bridge. “The Walker” follows and does the same – a strong, dirgy riff is sporadic while the verses grab the Echo and The Bunnymen approach except for a gritty riff which simmers and surfaces.
Stella Sapiente boasts the depth of Death By Television with more thoughtful songwriting and cleaner production. The cuts are slower and deeper; less three chord romps, more songs constructed from crisp guitar lines. Stella Sapiente is a great addition to The Lillingtons’ catalog with a step in a tangential direction.
RIYL: The Ramones, The Queers, Teenage Bottlerocket, Tiger Army, The Misfits, (early) The Cure, Ceremony (L Shaped Man), Damned (but which era?)