Courtesy of Rob Walters
Tilly and the Wall – “Pot Kettle Black”
At some point, the standard six-piece drum set becomes just plain boring. Bands across the musical spectrum have experimented with guitar distortion, keyboards, synthesizers and electronic sounds, but somehow the basic drum kit has remained omnipresent in rock music since the heyday of the Beatles.
Of course there are some who have dared to step away from two-dimensional percussion. Def Leppard pioneered the skull-crunching double bass that gave ’80s metal its distinctive sound. Guster kicked the drum set out the window all together in favor of bongos. But Omaha.-based quintet Tilly and the Wall took innovation a step further and elected to replace the tired old drum set with a tap dancer.
Seriously, all the percussion that you hear in their albums is generated by Jamie Presnall, the band tap dancer, smacking the floor with her shoes. When I first heard about this peculiar choice of percussion, it seemed gimmicky and I couldn’t imagine tap dancing providing a steady rhythm for rock music. But listening to “Bad Education,” the single off the band’s 2006 release, Bottoms of Barrels, I was astounded by the way the sound meshed organically with the rest of the music. Though unmistakably distinct, the percussion became just another element of an intricately vivid tableau.
But Tilly and the Wall have more to add to the picture than clicking heels. Soft keyboard melodies, xylophone arpeggios and warm brass maneuver fluidly through colorful harmonic minors and quirky key changes. Carving out its own distinct style, the quintet crafts vocal harmonies that are very close in tonality, producing an unusual echoing effect. In addition to this, the group relies on a singing style that sounds more like loud melodic chanting than conventional singing, ramping up the energy level of the music.
Tilly and the Wall’s sound is like a great Picasso painting. It’s pretty weird and a bit crazy, but if you’re able to get past the oddities, it’s expressive, colorful and erratically energetic.
—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum