Tilly and the Wall

Bottoms of Barrels

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Tilly and the Wall's second album retains all the hook-filled exuberance, angst, drama, and emotion that made their first album such a thrill. Also, the drummer is still a tap dancer and a damn fine one, and the vocalists (Kianna Alarid, Neely Jenkins, and Derek Pressnall) still harmonize and wail like the heartbroken kids they sing about. Most importantly, the songs are mostly as strong and memorable as before, especially those that feature female lead vocals like the rollicking opener "Rainbows in the Dark," "Black and Blue," and the wild mariachi horn-filled "Bad Education." (Though the songs with group vocals like "Sing Songs Along" and the nearly-country "Brave Day" are nice too.) What has changed here is the sound of the band. With more experience, they have gained confidence as well as musical expertise. The recording is warm, rich, and layered with the addition of twangy guitars, stately pianos, expensive-sounding organs, and a coating of cozy reverb. It makes for a more professional and listenable record, but the sonic improvements lessen the impact of the songs and performances just enough to make the record a slight disappointment. Slight. Maybe knocks it down from stunning (as Wild Like Children was) to super-good, but that's not a bad place to be, really. And you can't blame them for growing up a little and shedding some of the inspired amateurism, rough edges, and unhinged passion they previously exhibited. It happens to just about every band. The trick is to stay true to the original ideals the band began with as you grow. Tilly and the Wall have done that here, and as long as they keep making records as committed as Bottoms of Barrels, they will remain a band worth believing in.

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