There’s always been a bit more to Tilly and the Wall than the ever present 'twee' label suggests. Yes, they're a family affair with hand drawn album covers and percussion provided by a tap dancer, yes they’re called ‘Tilly and the Wall’ which hardly suggests Atari Teenage Riot. But as a sonic experience they've always had considerably more bite than the evidence on paper might suggest. Since we last saw them the band have rather settled down, they're now wives, husbands and parents and the t-word would seem more appropriate than ever. Heavy Mood, their fourth album proper, tries its best to convince us otherwise.
This is an album that, at least at first, feels like a manifesto-led statement of intent. Opener 'Love Riot' seems determined to fill the gap recently vacated by LCD Soundsystem- bongos and handclaps lead a percussive storm splintered by bloodthirsty, primitive guitar, with Kianna Alarid and Neely Jenkins yelping "We won't be quiet!" and how no one is "ever gonna take us down". It’s a proper punch-in-the-face way to open a record, like Le Tigre beating the shit out of The Rapture and The Gossip in a disco in 2004. It is, to put it mildly, bloody brilliant. Things continue in that vein with ‘Heavy Mood’, which starts off - genuinely - like a funk Prodigy as rising key tones are punctuated by someone shouting “HUH!”. Again there’s more than a smidge of James Murphy’s retired dance-punks here, and again the lyrics suggest cut and paste sloganeering, lest we judge the band among the tweecore set “you can’t bring us down/we’re way too strong”, they say, “you can shut your mouth cos I’m dancing through the night”.
That proves to be a false promise; despite claims of “dancing through the night” they can’t quite keep up the pace. Three tracks in and the mask begins to slip: ‘All Kinds of Guns’ calms things down noticeably, a jangly girl group pastiche that brings all of those cute and twee accusations right back to the surface. It’s a tighter take on pop than their early records, but as the storming energy that kicks off Heavy Mood begins to ebb away the group begins to feel oddly charmless. It’s especially disappointing because charm was always the first weapon in the Tilly arsenal. The chiming pop of ‘Echo My Love’ and ‘Static Expression’ is pleasant enough, but they’re decidedly vanilla, especially following such a promising first act. It’s certainly not bad - ‘Thick As Thieves’s tribute to friendship and sisterhood, and the sad, spacey ‘Hey Rainbow’ come on like a weird mix of the Shangri-Las and My Little Pony, with added swearing - but they do prop up a decidedly flat middle section, along with ‘I Believe In You’, a straight-laced Eighties pop ballad that’s good rather than great.
Just as you’re about to write off Heavy Mood for good things take a last minute turn, closing the record with ‘Defenders’, a dark, urgent return to the lacerating, percussive grooves from the top of the show, complete with stabby synths, spiky guitars and a kids choir doing call and response. It’s the best thing here.
For a better or for worse Tilly and the Wall are a band that sound completely comfortable with their position in the music world. But contentment, alas, doesn’t always bring excitement, which accounts for the mixed-bag on show here. There’s enough flashes of brilliance to make this worth a punt though- yes there’s nothing new in these sounds and maybe they’ve lost some of the charm and naivety that marked their first records, but as penultimate track ‘Youth’ succinctly puts it "Living for speed and dying young, it’s all been done before... Youth is wasted on the young". It’s good to have them back.
6Marc Burrows's Score