Review Summary: Bottoms of Barrels is like cotton candy; yummy at first but increasingly sickly with each consecutive bite.
As seen in bands like Architecture in Helsinki
and Mates of State
, as well as recent releases by bands such as Belle & Sebastian
and The Flaming Lips
, twee pop has become quite the fashionable genre. Modern indie rock shows, a far cry from the efforts of bands like Built to Spill
or Dinosaur Jr.
, seem to want to be as big as possible; vibrant colours, 27 member bands, fireworks and fans/touring members dancing around in bear suits are common occurences.
Enter Tilly and the Wall
, the twee-as-fu
ck indie-popsters who, as you may or may not know, were the first band signed to Conor Oberst's unfortunately named Team Love record label. As is becoming more and more common, Tilly and the Wall have a unique element, a gimmick if you like, that sets them apart from their peers. In this case, it's a tap dancing percussionist who replaces the spot traditionally occupied in a rock band by a drummer. Musically, Tilly and the Wall perfectly exemplify modern indie pop of the twee variety; boy/girl vocals, catchy, upbeat melodies, cheery lyrics and chord progressions, extreme handclapping and ever so colourful artwork.
Like many of their peers, Tilly and the Wall are so sickly sweet that prolonged listening is likely to cause tooth decay. That's not to say that there isn't a lot of fun to be had with their music; every song is seriously catchy, they manage to utilise their tap dancing percussionist in way that puts her above the level of simply being a gimmick and as a band, they are able to use a wide variety of instruments to good effect. "Rainbows in the Dark", for example, is a nicely balanced song that trades off between spare sections consisting of nothing more than vocals and a few piano notes or guitar chords and grandiose, percussive sections with bright horns and rapid-fire tapping. Opener "Coughing Colors" and midpoint "Love Song" are generally empty enough (consisting of voice and piano or guitar) to allow the songwriting to come through without unnecessary shouting, clapping or other assorted twee pop staples.
Bottoms of Barrels
is given full studio treatment in regards to recording and production (in contrast to the group's debut, which was a home studio effort), but doesn't necessarily benefit from it. Every track is mixed with extreme levels of reverb and there is very little space between instruments, making the record feel like everything is pushed into the middle and not given space to exist on its own. The production isn't majorly flawed, but it sure doesn't help
the songs either.
While Bottoms of Barrels
is by no means a terrible record, your ability to enjoy it will be directly proportional to your ability to stomach its extreme twee. The album has a 'celebration of life' feel to it, but lacks the bittersweetness of bands like The Arcade Fire
, which is frustrating because Tilly and the Wall at times seem to be sincere while still trying far too hard. In short, Bottoms of Barrels
is like cotton candy; yummy at first, but increasingly sickly with each consecutive bite.