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  Tilly and the Wall  
  Tilly and the Wall  
  Team Love  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:

I was pointed to this album, available for free download, by an online friend. She indicated that what she liked about the band was that, rather than having a drummer, the rhythms came from one woman (Jamie W) tap dancing. "It's very cute," my online friend said. "You should definitely check it out."

Now, "cute" is a word that works great when applied to kittens and babies but usually doesn't work so well when applied to music, so i approached this album with a certain amount of trepidation. The words "cute" and "rhythm by tap dancing" clustered together in my brain to create a mental of image of some vaguely pretentious "schtick" band, somehow entwined with an image of Shirley Temple (burned into the brain in childhood, and long repressed) tap dancing. However, it costs nothing to download, and i always figured that, if i hated it, i could just delete the files. Nothing wasted but a little bit of time.

Well, although there are some songs on this album that can be perfectly summed up by describing the band (keyboards, acoustic guitar, tap dancing, and two female vocalists singing harmony), there is actually a little more to the band than that. Which is good, because the distinction created by tap danced rhythms is really only amusing enough to carry them for 2 songs (tops) before it gets repetitive. But the band keeps it interesting, and i think that's a pretty good feat. This album could easily descend into the realm of "too cute" and thus become annoying.

I think before i go any further i should point out that Tilly and the Wall are a Bright Eyes side project. Now, i have no real opinion of the Nebraska music scene, but i know some people who are very opposed to Nebraska-ness. Really. I haven't seen such ire directed at a group of musicians since Athens, GA, was overrun by those damned Elephant 6 people. (Even i got sick of them.) Well, the connection is that the keyboardist in Bright Eyes is the keyboardist in Tilly and the Wall. He goes by the enigmatic name Nick W, and apparently he is from Atlanta, EvilSponge's center of operations. I think that much of the ire directed at the Nebraska scene might come from the fact that there is an exodus from Atlanta/Athens to that scene. Aside from Nick W, Athens favorites (and the band in EvilSponge's most read review ever) Azure Ray relocated there. Apparently that makes people pissy. Who knew?

Anyway, the Atlanta thing is just an interesting connection and not really important to understanding the music, except on one song, called Nights of the Living Dead. This is a silly song about going clubbing in Atlanta when you are a teenager. The song features the line "the North Avenue gas station prostitutes check their hair in our rearview mirror." (Yeah, i've been at that BP in the middle of the night...) Anyway, the song goes on to compare club kids to zombies (hence, The Living Dead) and builds into a frenzy of distorted guitar, screamed vocals (one male voice, two female), soaring keys, and tap dancing that is surely a 4 minute workout by itself! Very fun, and catchy. In fact, i think this is the best tune on the album, and indeed is one of the funnest songs i have heard in a long time.

Another great, energetic tune is Reckless. Apparently this is the "single" off of the album, since there is a video you can watch as you download the rest of the music from the website. This song is exactly what you think a band with a tap dancer and two harmonizing female singers would sound like. Still, it's fun (it uses up one of the 2 free songs they get for novelty), and does feature a tap dance solo, which is kind of funny when you think about it.

But it seems that not every song features the tap dancer. Or maybe she is just insanely talented at it. I can't tell, but Perfect Fit and You and I Misbehaving both really sound like they feature a mechanically precise drum machine. I guess it could be tap, but really solid tap. I guess. Again, this is something i don't know much about. Anyway, the different rhythms on these songs keep the "harmonized vocals, light guitar, and keys" framework of the band from becoming tedious.

One song of particular note is Shake It Out, wherein it sounds like the tap dancer is trying to kick out a 4 on the floor rave rhythm (thump thump thump thump). What makes this song, though, is the addition of horns to the male/female vocal interplay. Who knew that horns and light vocals went so well with a, literally, kicked out rave rhythm? Weird, but it does work.

In complete contrast to the crazy dance music that Tilly and the Wall do, they also do old fashioned country pretty well too. Actually, maybe what they are doing is "western" not country. In all honesty i have a hard time telling the difference, but there is more of a mournful twang to this music, and for some reason i associate the sound with John Wayne movies, so it makes me think of cowboys and thus i classify it as "old western". I might be completely full of shit on this classification, since i am outside of my comfort genres here, but i still find it entertaining.

Good songs in this vein include I Always Knew, where the keys really sound like an old saloon piano, and Let It Rain, which is almost folky and includes some great male/female harmony. There is also a "hidden track" tacked on to the end of the final MP3 file. On this one the vocalist (either Neely J or Kianna A, they don't tell who sings lead on what song) sings a lovely, slow, sad song. It reminds me of the better moments of the later work of either Neko Case or Kelly Hogan.

Overall, i am impressed when i never thought i would be. I basically downloaded this thing on a dare, and i find myself listening to it again and again. Odd. So my recommendation to you is to give this band a chance. It costs nothing except bandwidth, and even that is very cheap these days. And it is interesting music that would be worth it even if you did have to pay...

Related Links:

You can download the album from the Team Love site.


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