If you like hookworms, William James, and endocrinology, you might also like a subscription to Vanity Fair, reruns of “Maude”, and the bubonic plague.
So, in a similar spirit of embracing musical constraints, the other day I was vacuuming our room for the first time in … longer than I care to admit… and I was listening to the Robyn Hitchcock album Luxor. I bought it after we saw him at Johnny D’s in October 2003, which was probably one of the top 10 rock show’s I’ve ever seen. I’m not a big fan of his 80′s stuff (though “Balloon Man” does get in my head every time I’m near Bryant Park in New York). But I love, love, love Eye, Moss Elixir, and to a lesser extent Jewels for Sophia / A Star for Bram. But most of all, I love Luxor, which he recorded as a 50th birthday present to himself in one afternoon, just him and his guitar [shut up, all of you] in his backyard. And the finished product fits what I think he does when he’s at his best, sort of a folky, Syd Barretish, surrealist, word-driven, brainy pop, delivered with his unmistakeable crackling British voice.
[PS: His most recent album with the Venus 5 (some non-trivial fraction of R.E.M.) is a good example of him at his overproduced worst. The 2004 album Spooked, with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, is not too bad, though I have to say it did not live quite up to my high expectations for it. The more I delve into her catalogue, the more I love Gillian Welch.]
I have written long half-deranged screeds against the electric guitar here before, so I won’t bore you with a mere recap of my irrational and fairly hyporcritical invective once more. All I will recap is that I think electronic music is not a way out of the guitar-based pop morass; I write software for my day job, so outside of work I need something that is not programming, something that captures a performance, a more primal give and take between two or more human beings making some kind of organized noise (I’ve certainly heard electronic music that captures this spirit, but it’s a rare thing). And while I definitely get some energy from listening to classics of previous eras, like jazz and classical (I’m sorry, jazz people, give me a counterexample that jazz is not on life support, and I will gladly eat my words), I generally crave things that are more of the zeitgeist.
Anyway, part of what appeals to me about removing the electric guitar from modern pop is really almost just the exercise of doing something unfamiliar, like writing your name with your left hand (or right hand if you’re left-handed). So that is at least in part what attracts me to Tilly and the Wall. Rather than take out the guitar, they took out another central pillar of the heterodox rock platform: the drums. And replaced it with a miked tapdancer. Yes, the only percussion is tapdancing. It actually seems obvious in retrospect, like why did nobody think of this before, which is often the hallmark of total genius.
Terri bought their most recent album, Bottoms of Barrels, last year, and I liked a song or two, but lately, they’re all I can listen to.
Also, I forgive them for being part of the same Omaha milieu that spawned the loathsome Bright Eyes.
Also, they are staffed entirely by supermodels and dorky-looking guys, a formidable combination.
Also, I would include a youtube video of them on Letterman, but I can’t seem to get YouTube to come up right now, which is odd.