Of Montreal + Tilly and the Wall

[19 May 2005]

By Zack Adcock


Of Montreal
Tilly and the Wall

It’s not off base to say we live in a world that is over-saturated with pop music. It’s the stuff of music gluttons like myself; it’s the base of activity for an entire school of music lover (and writer) that simply loves pop music. But there are exceptions, and every sweet tooth gets a cavity (or, at least, in a fair world it would). Oftentimes, we need a little bit more. Based on previous knowledge of Of Montreal and what the whisper mill had to say about Tilly and the Wall, this was clearly to be a pop tour of extreme proportions.

Simply put, Tilly and the Wall is a band that I should hate. But I don’t. I couldn’t tell you why. Frankly, I blame Omaha.

It’s partially my fault. I went in blind to this band. Tilly is a band comprised of two female singers (Who clap. A lot.), a keyboard player, a guitarist who sometimes sings and a tap dancer… a tap dancer! From a bird’s eye view, the band seems to be trying a bit too hard.

Acoustic guitarist/vocalist Derek Pressnall and keyboardist Nick White bring disjointed pieces to this puzzle of a band, mixing rabidly energetic strumming with keyboards blips. Natural percussion comes from the feet of the dancer, from the hands of the clappers, and every now and then an electronic beat spews from the keyboard.

Somehow, that Omaha charm makes it through the madness: stripped pop hooks and golden vocal melodies. The singers and dancer twirl, their clothing creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, each individual style and step awkward and beautiful. The compositions are bare but that’s not to say they lack energy or substance. To the contrary, the songs are sweet and sour, giddy as a sugar high but peppered with bitterness and profanities. They hang from the base mixture of folk and pop with the tips of their fingernails. Where doubt lingered before now stands a smile. Tilly and the Wall is, in fact, the perfect band to open for Of Montreal.

Now, Of Montreal has built a following on sunny-eyed pop music occasionally laced with a dab of something psychedelic, a Kinks-influenced rock ‘n’ roll dance party to the nth degree with a strong back catalog and even stronger recent releases. Many stand by The Gay Parade as the band’s exemplary release. However 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic and 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins have helped to re-characterize brainchild Kevin Barnes and his band of merry popsters. Of the latter, Barnes has said in publicity material that, “The Sunlandic Twins is my foray into 21st century A.D.D. electro-cinematic avant-disco. My aim was to place the mirror ball choral acrobatics of the shamelessly ambitious ‘70s and ‘80s studio wizards into a more chimerical mien… The album plays out like an electro pop opera…” and after many listens, and especially after seeing the live set, this is simply true.

These recent two releases have created a stronger, more diverse, more confident sound that achieves diversity through the incorporation of electronic beats and layers. It goes without saying, then, that because the band’s set currently consists of mostly songs from the latest efforts, Of Montreal’s display was brilliant.

Live, Of Montreal couldn’t sound better, a statement partially made possible by the band’s touring sound engineer. It becomes clear through performance that the end result is a band that represents, in some ways, where the Talking Heads have led us. And when I say “performance” I don’t simply mean the band standing there, playing the songs; Of Montreal uses theatrics and absurd stage banter to keep our attention between songs. It’s pop with an eerie and awkward tinge, danceable psych grooves that recall early ‘80s post-disco qualities while managing to remain something completely modern.

Simply put, this is no normal band. And being a mature second generation relative of the infamous Elephant 6 collective, one who has since moved away to establish a home of their own (that is, a sound and possibly a musical space separate from simple association with E6), this is no surprise. Of Montreal takes the stage in mimed slow motion, an action so convincing in its execution that we begin to understand not only how much is put into these songs, but also into the live show. Midway through the set Bryan Poole, of the late BP Helium, takes the spotlight while Barnes exits stage right, returning after a costume change. As is apparent in their stage antics, Of Montreal goes out of its way to make each show an event.

Of Montreal and Tilly and the Wall both are straightforward pop bands who take the extra steps to entertain us, and for that they are much appreciated. This tour is simply golden. Hesitant minds might not be pleased, but both bands seemed to have a nice turnout, and the fans of each will soon be fans of the other, if they’re not already.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/of-montreal-050427/