Those like myself who carry a torch for the sprite-like energy that characterized Tilly and the Wall’s early albums and have been slightly concerned about their gradual slide into slick production may find themselves doing the slow “damn shame about that” head shake re: Heavy Mood. When artists pitch a stylistic changeup, there’s no good way to respond without sounding awful. It’s no critic or fan’s place to say a band is wrong for altering its point of view. But when nothing about the changes seems like an improvement, it’s difficult to keep from from waxing adverb-heavy about how the music used to be so much better.
For better or worse, Mood is the most “produced” Tilly and the Wall album. Synthesizers play a significant role, drums often obscure Jamie Pressnall’s tap dancing, and the songs have a distance that wasn’t there on previous work—a cold precision reminiscent of Metric at its most fembotic. No matter how many times I listened to Mood, I never stopped wishing these songs sounded more kinetic and less synthetic. I missed the way you could hear humanity vibrate through the music on their earlier albums like so many Monster-addled elementary school kids in music class.
For more “mature-sounding” music inspired by life-changing events (all five band members either had children, moved to different cities, or made significant career moves), the lyrics have sure taken an about-face towards younger years. On past albums, the band delved into issues like gender confusion and handled confrontation with a rough touch via lines like “I said, god, put down your hand, we're not listening/ Oh, we never were/ I want to fuck it up/ I feel so alive.” On Mood, their defiance is decidedly juvenile in nature, the childlike stomps and handclaps replaced with childlike lyrics. One of the gems on Mood’s front end, “Love Riot” comes off like a little kid’s id, rebellious in the most Maurice Sendak-ian sense. It’s not opposition coming from a place of “I disagree; here’s what I think instead.” Instead, it’s obstinate in the most elementary way: “Can’t tell us what to do/ Can’t tell us what to be.”
For every standout near the beginning of the album—most notably the catchy girl group-aping “All Kinds of Guns”—there’s a sorta-tedious ballad near the end. Tilly and the Wall’s energy isn’t a perfect match for slow jams, or even mid-tempo songs, and unfortunately tracks like those dominate Mood’s back end. “I Believe In You” is almost an anti-showcase for the band, drawing focus to Kianna Alarid’s “stand up and pay attention” yawp in an unappealing way, leaning on tired indie pop production styles, emphasizing eye rolling lines like “I believe in you/ But I believe in me, too.”
Echo effects frequently show up on Mood; there’s a song called “Echo My Love;” plus a lot of lines like “We cannot stay this way forever.” It’s an interesting theme for a band to weave through its work after recently deciding to change its artistic M.O.; an echo is a living copy of a sound, but each time it repeats, it loses a little more of the characteristics that lent the original sound detail and fidelity. And right before the echo fades out completely, you’re left with the “root” of the sound—whatever the noisemaker most emphasized when s/he originally yelled into the abyss. Like an echo of their past albums, Tilly and the Wall are gradually chipping away at their original sound, but judging by Mood, it seems they’ve unfortunately started with the root.