TILLY AND THE WALL with DAVID DONDERO at the Mod Club (722 College), Sunday (June 11), 7:30 pm. $13.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Until recently, the fun-loving Tilly and the Wall were in danger of being typecast as comic relief for the silly sad sacks who make up the Omaha, Nebraska, music scene. That's what happens when you have a full-time tap dancer in the band click-clacking out beats instead of a drummer.
But the shockingly great new Tilly disc, Bottoms Of Barrels (Team Love), will drastically alter people's perceptions of what this group is all about: so long shout-along novelty act, hello ser-ious orch-pop contenders.
It's not just the wider range of instrumentation and more sophisticated arrangements; the level of songwriting within the group has greatly improved. The image-rich songs Rainbows In The Dark and Coughing Colors, which Tilly guitarist Derek Pressnall wrote to bookend the album, aren't merely a giant step forward in lyrical maturity; they're a quantum leap beyond anything on 2004's Wild Like Children.
"We didn't deliberately plan to do anything differently for this album," says handclapping vocalist Kianna Alarid, who unlike Tilly-mates Neely Jenkins and Jamie Williams was not once a member of Conor Oberst's Park Ave. group. "I think it's just a consequence of our development as musicians and songwriters. Two years have passed since that album came out, and we've all matured a lot I know I have. That's bound to come through in the new songs.
"I also have to say that AJ and Mike Mogis did a wonderful job of producing and mixing the album," she continues, "and we're fortunate to have a lot of great musician friends who were willing to come in and help us out with all the accordion, violin, cello, trumpet and saxophone parts."
Even if Bottoms Of Barrels doesn't wind up on every music writer's 2006 year-in-review list, it should at least rid Tilly and the Wall of those unfortunate Architecture in Helsinki comparisons and put them more in line for name-checking alongside Arcade Fire or Stars.
I wouldn't be surprised if someone starts a petition to make Tilly and the Wall honorary Canucks.
"I always wondered about those reviews that would mention Architecture in Helsinki. Then I saw them live recently and really didn't get the comparison at all," Alarid marvels. "I don't think we sound anything like them. But I really like Arcade Fire, so if you ever get the urge to favourably compare us to them, by all means, feel free!"