erasing clouds

Tilly and the Wall, Wild Like Children

reviewed by dave heaton

Tilly and the Wall's Wild Like Children opens like a late-night party of happy-sad youths messed up on cheap wine, falling in and out of love with each other. With perfect melodies and a loose, sparse approach (with percussion and the sounds of a tap dancer's shoes standing in for proper drums on all but one of the 10 tracks), the Omaha-based group has an anything-goes, loving approach one might call "childlike" (meaning not infantile but free from the burdens of being an ultra-serious "adult), but their music is also filled with genuine feelings - hurt and tenderness and sadness and joy - and shouldn't be cast off as insubstantial.

The album starts like a party (albeit a 'let's fuck things up and make a mark on a world that doesn't care about us' sort of party) but by the third track gets more musically introspective, with the piano/guitar/tap shoes ballad "Bessa," a moving slice-of-life breakup song. "Bessa" was written "with help from" Blake Sennett of The Elected and Rilo Kiley; the album is the first release on Conor Oberst's new label Team Love, and there's appearances throughout by a few of the stalwart Saddle Creek accompanists. Me mentioning Saddle Creek isn't just playing name games - musically Tilly and the Wall fits into that loose community of groups like Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Son Ambulance, etc. They share with those groups a keen melodic sense and a knack for writing songs about real life, songs they feel like they're by and about people you know. That isn't to say that Tilly and the Wall don't have their own musical personality, however, just that they're songs resonate as powerfully with me as those groups' songs do, and in somehow similar ways.

Wild Like Children has no skip-over tracks, it's an album I'll be playing again and again. It's songs often wander into dream-like gorgeous pop territory, yet they're never just pretty. The album's last proper song, "The Ice Storm, Big Gust, and You," is a sing-along declaration of independence that'll convince you that playing heartfelt pop songs isn't just a fun diversion, it's an act of rebellion, a fiercely noncomformist act. "We will sing pretty songs about love, and we will fight if that's what it takes, and we won't back down," they sing. This is the point where, if we were at a political rally we'd be on our feet ready to throw ourselves headlong into the struggle, to sing and dance our way to a revolution.


Issue 24, June 2004

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