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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tilly and the Wall: "O"

What's more ridiculous than a band whose percussion section is fronted by a tap dancer?  When that same band tries to act like a bunch of edgy punks.  Like it or not, that's the approach that Tilly in the Wall is taking on their third full-length LP, formally untitled, now known only as "O."  What ensues in its 32 minutes is an unlikely blend of punk rock, dance, and indie pop that never really achieves the heights that the band would undoubtedly wish for it.

I've been a fan of Tilly and the Wall since I first heard their music over three years ago.  I was captivated by their unique style of indie pop, and more specifically, the unrelenting joy and whimsy that seemed to drip from nearly every second of their music.  Even when the band took a more serious route with their songs, their passion and excitement remained the same.  It is for this reason that I am particularly disappointed with O.  Despite a few toe-tappers and fist-pounders, it is an album completely void of the joy and passion that filled their first two albums.  

Standout track, "Pot Kettle Black," is a sad, desperate attempt to be edgy.  In it, Kianna takes on gossiping girls with the laughable chorus of , "Pot kettle, pot kettle black/ Talk that, talk that smack!/ Pot kettle, pot kettle black/ Watch yo', watch yo' back!"  Just when I thought I would never hear anybody refer to it as "talking smack" ever again, this song brings back the terminology like a gift we didn't know we deserved and didn't really want to begin with.  The song's distorted, easy guitar riffs make it sound more like a White Stripes song than Tilly and the Wall, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired.  This faux hardcore attitude is reflected in the catchy "Blood Flower" ("You better watch what you're doing/ don't go f**kin' around in the garden") or the laughable but energetic closer, "Too Excited."  The latter song begins with a 30-second tap dance solo before we have to put up with Kianna shouting silly things like "Well I say boohoo/ And I say f**k you!" or "I'm gonna burn this motherf**kin' party down!"  I'm shivering...
Despite my lack of respect for these songs, I've found them to be some of the most enjoyable on the album for the simple fact that they seem to be the few that have discernible passion behind them.  "I Found You" is an utter bore, "Poor Man's Ice Cream" is a band's desperate attempt to recreate their breakout song ("Bad Education"), and "Cacophony" is an interesting song with rich instrumentation, but lacks any sort of memorable melody.  This is supposed to be pop music, right?  A lot of these songs just sound like fan-service; obligatory tracks to quiet the fans and get them to feel like they got their money's worth.

There are some track with which I have no complaints, like the upbeat classic, "Alligator Skin" which hearkens back to the band's old sound.  But at only 2:20, it doesn't last near as long as I'd like it to.  "Dust Me Off" is another fantastic track that implements a lot of synths and electronics to make a truly memorable dance song.  It sounds unlike anything the band has done before, but it's fun and catchy despite its serious lyrical content; kind of like a good Of Montreal song.  "Tall Tall Grass" is another solid song.  It may be the obligatory ballad, but Tilly and the Wall has always been particularly good at making soft acoustic songs.  This one is no different.  Kianna's voice is as good as it ever gets on the album, and the band harmonizes beautifully with her on the choruses.  

But overall, O is the very definition of a mixed bag.  For every solid, decent song on the album, there is another that is either not up to snuff or just plain dumb.  Longtime fans of Tilly and the Wall are likely to be surprised by what they hear, and if they're like me, the first couple of listens will be accompanied by a frown or grimace.  After about 3 listens, a few of the songs started to grow on me while others, particularly "Pot Kettle Black," just wore out their welcome entirely.  This is definitely Tilly and the Wall's riskiest album to date, but unfortunately, it also winds up being their worst.  The carefree, happy band that once ran through a gymnasium with streamers in their music video is now a bunch of badasses who "don't give a s**t if [they're] cool enough."  Strange for a band that spends the majority of the time on this album trying to convince us that they are, in fact, the cool kids on the block.  And if you don't believe it, they'll kick your ass!

Key Tracks:
1. "Tall Tall Grass"
2. "Alligator Skin"
3. "Dust Me Off"
4. "Falling Without Knowing"
5. "Blood Flower"

5 out of 10 Stars

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