Of Montreal, Tilly and the Wall, with Spain Colored Orange

The late, lamented pre-Stepfordization Sassy magazine used to sound its "Cute Band Alert" whenever it encountered talented musicians who were also adorable. More than any other active group, Omaha's Tilly and the Wall would have deserved Sassy's virtual unicorn-shaped rubber stamp of approval. Everything about this quintet is aw-inspiring, from its name's origin (swiped from a children's story about an ambitious mouse) to its Web site ("click the hearts to view photos") to its label (Team Love). Oh, and all of the percussion on the group's debut disc, Wild Like Children, comes from hand claps or member Jamie Williams's amplified tap-dancing.

Despite its smart and cynical lyrical content, which seems wildly subversive in this instrumental context, Children will always be judged by its honeyed harmonies. It must be frustrating to write lines such as "love, just like blood, will always stain," only to have reviewers remark, "It's second-grade, in a good way." On the other hand, lines like "We will sing pretty songs about love / and we will fight if that's what it takes to prove that" while Tilly's members look dainty as doilies, they're ready to pound anyone who tries to oppress their stylish outfits and gorgeous melodies.

Of Montreal, of course, isn't of Montreal at all. This will probably be a good thing once the Arcade Fire-driven Montreal-mania reaches its zenith and the backlash begins. For now, the band seems quite comfy in its Athens, Georgia, home. (Baseball Weekly-driven rumors that the band members were going to rename themselves "Of Washington, D.C." this spring proved unfounded.) The brainchild of loose Elephant 6 affiliate Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal takes the dreamy trail the Talking Heads would have meandered had David Byrne mind-melded with the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" instead of Afrobeat polyrhythms. Like XTC and Brian Wilson before him, Barnes understands the ominousness of dark lyrics delivered lightly, optimistically -- especially when circus hurdy-gurdies, vaudeville motifs and happy little synth bloops (on The Sunlandic Twins, Of Montreal's latest CD) fill the empty spaces in the background.

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Andrew Miller
Mike Warren