Omaha’s Tilly and the Wall tread a thin line between electrifying exuberance and outright kitsch. Then tap dancer Jamie Pressnall stomps that line into the dust. For all intents and purposes the group’s main percussionist (vocalists Neely Jenkins and Kianna Alarid contribute minimal hand percussion-cymbals and tambourines mostly), her footwork provides a solid anchor for the other band members’ dense power pop. At the very least they earn a couple style points for having an original gimmick.
Nurtured no doubt by fellow Omaha folkie/Team Love founder Conor Oberst (they recorded a six track demo in his basement for God’s sake), Tilly have pared their twee tendencies into more focused lyrical spunk. O‘s nodding nostalgia is heavy on harmonies, heavier still on cocksure swagger. Occasionally the Nebraskans fire just short of stepping outside the bar with fists drawn (celebratory shit-talker “Pot Kettle Black”).
Less concept than ever-present motif, Jenkins and Alarid’s themes—rich in honeyed harmonies—aspire to brood over adulthood apprehensions (acoustic opener “Tall Tall Grass”) or assuage heavy hearts (“Cacophony”). But even these transitory themes merely preface a newfound attitude the band shortly dresses in all black (angsty!). If (second album) Bottoms of Barrels was Tilly and the Wall’s awkward childhood, O proves its troubled adolescence: stubborn, arrogant, rebellious.
“Falling Without Knowing” fancies a billowing distortion wave that washes its cowed vocals under the syrupy mix. Guitars shredded through a Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz storm resemble the Raveonettes’ latest, Lust Lust Lust. Elsewhere abundant F-bombs (finale “Too Excited”) stretch the band far beyond sight of their two prior albums’ sometimes cloying sentimentality. As a ruse to shed perceptions of `cuteness’ from earlier works it feels less than natural (especially considering the palpable influence of Mr. Bright Eyes himself).
Flaunting their fair share of similarities with the recent resurgence of like-minded `ettes’ on the vast pop landscape, Tilly and the Wall stomp-out their niche among the hordes in predictable, if not always typical fashion. Fans of raucous tap-dance parties need look no further, though, as young love sometimes goes, you’ll be hoping something new and more exciting catches your ear before long.