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Tilly and the Wall

It's been four years since Tilly and the Wall has released an album, and it couldn't have come at a better — or more crucial — time. With the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement almost upon us and a divisive presidential election right around the corner, the quintet has re-emerged decidedly wiser and more mature, but with all its child-like exuberance intact, to offer musical and moral encouragement to these heavy times. At this juncture, Tilly and The Wall represents not one party or ideology, but its own radical movement, apolitical but fervently pro-people, reasserting its belief in the power of love, friendship and brash anthemic choruses that we all can chant, clap and stomp along to together.

Since the group's inception in Omaha, Nebraska more than a decade ago – recording its first sides with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes in his basement – Tilly and the Wall has managed to ingeniously combine folk-rock strumming, schoolyard sing-along rhymes, unison male-female vocals and rapid-fire beats via the amplified tap-dancing of Jamie Williams Pressnall, who fulfills the role of a traditional percussionist in a joyfully unorthodox manner. Their lyrics are as quirkily imaginative as the arrangements, embracing a kind of fearlessness and freedom in matters of the heart, the body and the soul. On stage and on record, singers Kianna Alarid Cameron and Neely Jenkins, keyboardist Nick White, and singer-guitarist Derek Pressnall evince a clear-eyed positivity, meant to keep darker forces at bay, to ameliorate the everyday struggles and setbacks we all face. The most life-affirming song of their early years was pointedly called "Night Of the Living Dead" and audiences everywhere would join them in the live-set closing pledge of "I want to fuck it up!" — boisterously declaimed en masse each night.

'Heavy Mood,' TATW's fourth full-length album for Team Love, opens just as boldly with the war whoops that announce "Love Riot," propelled by Jamie's tap-dancing percussion, slightly ominous fuzz-toned guitar from Derek, and lead vocalist Kianna's impassioned back-and-forth with a multi-tracked choir of punk-defiant voices. ("I can't hold it in!" is the call; "No!" is the response.) The title track, featuring its pumping dance beat, is just as exhortative, a street protest recast as a block party, with Derek delivering the core message of the set: "I got the power because I live like I want!" The BPM's may turn gentler in several of the songs that follow, but the atmosphere is no less compelling. The lyrics become more narrative and, especially on the eighties-flavored "Let Go" and the slow electronic rhythms of "I Believe In You," take on a wistful, openhearted tone. "Static Expression," with its bell-ringing chorus, feels like a contemporary indie-rock version of a Phil Spector extravaganza, courtesy of the band's longtime producer and studio cohort Mike Mogis. By album's end, with "Youth" and "Defenders," this new version of Tilly and the Wall is once again defining its status as free-form musical activists while urging a younger generation to let its own freak flag fly.

TATW hadn't planned on an extended hiatus back in 2008, but Jamie became pregnant and that necessitated time off from a grueling tour schedule that had kept the group on the road for about eight months a year. The unexpected time away from Tilly allowed each of the band mates the opportunity to stretch as musicians and as individuals. Derek recently completed an album as part of Omaha-based trio Icky Blossoms for Saddle Creek Records and Nick toured with the Young Veins, an offshoot of Panic at the Disco. Jamie and Derek had a second child, while Neely moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of love and a side career as a yoga instructor. Kianna honed her yoga-teaching skills too and, more recently, became a first-time parent herself. Looking back, she now says, "I feel like I've been a thousand people since the last record came out," a sentiment that surely rings true for all the band members. "It was crazy the amount of things I learned in the past three years. "

The band members are no longer all living in Omaha, with Nick also having moved to Los Angeles and Kianna resettling Kansas City. So when the ideas for new Tilly songs started to develop, they had to do some long-distance brainstorming. As Kianna recounts, "In 2010, I emailed Derek and said, I think I have a bunch of Tilly songs and he said, yeah, it's time, I was thinking that too. We started that conversation and began sharing things with everyone, finally met with everyone and talked it all out. Last year we went into the studio in Omaha with Mike, and we knew exactly what to expect. He's a proper genius. He's not one of those producers or engineers who is just sitting in front of a button. He can play anything. Oftentimes we would record something then we would leave for lunch and when we'd come back he'd say, "I hope you don't mind but I threw this melody down here…" and whatever he did was phenomenal. We knew that was how it would be again this time, so we deliberately didn't fully arrange the songs, to allow Mike to do all that stuff. And he did."

Each member brings his or her own songs to the studio, but, explains Kianna, "we know that they will all be Tilly-fied by the end of the process." And all of them will ultimately be credited to the band as a whole. Thematically, there are no rules: "We never predetermine any topics or feelings in our band. It's a lot about who we are as people and how we look at the world. I have people ask me everyday, how are you so positive? I don't know, man, it's been a long journey to get here. But it's definitely a part of all five of us."

Trying to encapsulate the spirit of the new disc in a title, Kianna says, "We had a couple names going. 'Defenders' was the first, but it was way too serious a word, and it was too literal. But 'Heavy Mood' —you can figure out for yourself what that means. When we finally decided on that, I thought – of course, obviously, that's amazing. It's really honest and it's where we're at as a planet. The whole point of that song is it's a heavy fucking mood and we've got to lift it up. That's the chorus: We've got to lift up that weight, that's our job – literally. As artists, that's our mission. We're ambassadors of this planet, it's a responsibility we have as artists because we are sharing something others can feel. That's always been a big part of what we've done but maybe we didn't always know we were doing it. But we've realized we have a job here, we have something to say, and we think it's important: don't let this shit get you down."

Tilly and the Wall is the party to join to get through these troubled times. As Kianna puts it, "Look to us if you need any help. Listen to the songs – -there's a message here specifically for you."

- Michael Hill

Rainbow Arabia

Inspired by the purchase of a Lebanese synthesizer playing microtonal scales and lo-fi Eastern drum patterns, Rainbow Arabia began a escapist diversion from Danny and Tiffany Preston's day jobs. The demos they recorded, which were written and put to tape in a matter of a days, became their debut, The Basta. Barely existing for only a few months, the married couple were picked out of the ether by NYC sonic alchemists/kindred spirits Gang Gang Dance to support them on a cross-continental tour in 2008.

Once they got back (and to their surprise) they quickly found themselves a legitimate act with acclaim from PITCHFORK, THE FADER, XLR8R, NME, in addition to a word-of-mouth groundswell for their fresh, contemporary East meets West take on the Sublime Frequencies catalog that inspired them so much in the first place. With a penchant for global pop and psychedelic tribal beats, Rainbow Arabia caught ears across the pond releasing the "Omar K" seven-inch on UK's Merok Records (Crystal Castles, Teengirl Fantasy) leading to their first European tour in 2009.

Shortly after they released their follow-up digging deeper for
inspiration from worldly found sounds, the Los Angeles-based duo's follow-up EP, Kabukimono, expanded the color palette of their Middle Eastern-tinged "fourth world" pop with darker industrial dancehall and comfortably sitting alongside brighter Caribbean and African flavors.

Not interested in merely musical/cultural tourism, the Prestons shifted their focus outward in writing their first full-length album Boys And Diamonds. The inspiration that they found landed squarely in between future-thinking contemporary club music (techno, hip-hop, dubstep) and the organic globe-trekking
dance music of the last century (reggae, ragas, gamelan) they've been known to draw from. Add in an affection for the 80s synth-pop they grew up on and the gothic influences informing Tiffany's teenage years specifically (Love and Rockets, OMD, Christian Death), and you have an interesting recipe that is utterly unclassifiable as it is repeatedly listenable.

Batwings Catwings

Amidst the blood, cocaine, and Botox soaked tapestry of Los Angeles, the members of Batwings Catwings hail from all over the US and converge upon the wasteland of Southern California to give those who are willing a reason to shake and sweat.

Batwings Catwings is fronted by the tiny, yet fierce dance commander Dana Poblete, an everygirl with the ability to entrance audiences from Los Angeles to the hell mouths of Mexico's border towns with her frenetic energy and deceptively powerful howl. Backing her is guitarist Ray Santillan, a master of the squelch who wields his axe and sequencers with the devastating accuracy. On the drums is L.A. blogger Clay Johnson, who cut his teeth drumming for about every metal band on the northern Midwest's arctic front. Josh Crampton rounds out the lineup on bass, diversifying the sound even further with his smoothness and shoegaze influences.

After their successful first EP "Peacock Collection" from earlier in 2011 and a bangin official showcase at SXSW they are primed for another release October 24, 2011 on Gravy Records out of the UK. It will be their first 7", which is named "Radio". They recorded again at L.A.'s hot spot Infrasonic Studios (No Age, Best Coast, Fools Gold, Abe Vigoda, Wavves) by Eric Nordhauser and Pete Lyman. With a tinge of sarcasm, they are self-proclaimed as "modernist punk" – noisy as hell with a angle of pop and a nod to the punk rock roots of the L.A. underground bands they love so much.

Jeffery Jerusalem



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