Tilly and the Wall I Bottoms of Barrels (Team Love)

Tilly and the Wall seem to be more focused on expressing their festive, life-affirming attitude rather than worrying about originality or bold creative statements.

 

Tilly and the Wall: Bottoms of Barrels (Team Love)

RIYL: Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, ’60s folk-pop

Back in ’94, I had occasion to spend a weekend in Omaha with a couple of friends. There was a college bar downtown that was one of the coolest such places I’ve ever seen. It had two floors, a wide staircase, a distinctive ambience, and throngs of attractive young people perched in every available space, laughing and enjoying their drinks. The members of Omaha quintet Tilly and the Wall may or may not have hung out at this establishment, but I remembered it as I played the group’s sophomore album Bottoms of Barrels. There’s a celebratory vibe that permeates the sound of this group: youthful exuberance mixed with utter delight at being able to tour and make music. No wonder indie icon Conor Oberst made them the first signing on his Team Love label.

The novelty of the group—pep rally-style female and male vocals with percussion largely generated by Jamie Williams’ tap dancing—helps add interest to songs that are sometimes lacking in a certain edge. Tilly and the Wall seem to be more focused on expressing their festive, life-affirming attitude rather than worrying about originality or bold creative statements. But that attitude is so ingratiating, so lively, that the kids end up reeling you in, even if you’re somewhat on the fence at first. “Sometimes you just can’t hold back the river,” they sing repeatedly in “Rainbows in the Dark,” a lyric-heavy narrative burst celebrating “the see-saw of all with its rickety balance/the feeling of coming, the feeling of going.” A flamenco arrangement flavors “Bad Education,” a moody examination of “girls and boys in full frustration.” In general, the mix of instruments on this album is more dense than on the band’s 2004 debut. “Brave Day” is a crisp tune with a soulful organ, and the delightful “Black and Blue,” an obvious highlight, is pure pop fizz with its blended vocal sound, simple guitars, and upbeat message of togetherness and appreciation of life’s possibilities. “I want to know everything about you/What makes you feel alive/I want to know everything that you do/Let’s drive through the night,” sing Kianna Alarid and Neely Jenkins, the two female vocalists of the band.

Their male counterpart, Derek Pressnall, does his thing on tunes like “Urgency” and the plaintive acoustic “Love Song,” but in general, those songs are less impressive than the full-tilt cheer sessions conducted by the gals. The most apt adjective for most Tilly and the Wall tunes is “jaunty.” These are vibrant, engaging youngsters who’d rather see life as a multicolored canvas (the watercolor-style art on the CD sleeve reflects that) than as stark black or white reality. “We’re taking no part in your cracked antique life,” they declare in “Sing Songs Along.” “You know I’m going to take my turn/Let us be free…” Tilly and the Wall celebrate freedom, youth, love and the promise each new day brings. They may be lacking a bit in musical depth, but as cheerleaders during a dark time, their sound and themes are rah-rah-right on… Kevin Renick


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