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
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
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
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...