Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: Western Vinyl
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
For 18 months or so, it has been compulsory when writing about J. Tillman’s solo work to make reference to the fact that he happens to be the drummer in Fleet Foxes. So let’s slay that particular elephant in the room straight away, shall we? The fact of the matter is that Year in the Kingdom is his sixth album in five years, which strongly suggests that, vastly contrasting commercial fortunes aside, his day job consists of his solo recordings, and Fleet Foxes is a mere side project.
Tillman’s latest release is unique among albums by drummers: It doesn’t feature drums. Instead, the Fleet Foxes sticksman employs acoustic guitar, cello and dulcimer for a minimalist record that could have been a chart topper in the 1600s. Fleet Foxes fans will relish “There is No Good in Me,” in which Tillman’s penitent voice melts into what sounds like a processional march by a cathedral choir.
Yes, Josh Tillman is the drummer for Fleet Foxes. Have we gotten that out of the way? Good. Because he has been putting out his own quiet records at a pretty good clip for a while now, and they’re not only great, but they’re the stark shadow to the honeyed light his “other” band puts out. And his sixth such record, Year in the Kingdom, may be his most stark collection yet.
J. Tillman's got one a hell of a voice, of course: The newest Fleet Foxes member wasn't just plopped down behind the drumkit post-Sun Giant 'cuz he gives good beard. It merits mention that Tillman's been crafting hushed folk yearners for years, and that Year in the Kingdom is Tillman's second LP of 2009. And it's right around here that we can stop bringing up those other dudes; whereas Foxes trade in the precise and the pristine, Tillman's songs drift along like a piece of ragged wood in the river, a little gnarled but easygoing nevertheless.
There's this prevailing idea in art -- and music, especially -- that the creative product is the result of some inarticulable anguish in the blood, that it carves a destructive path out of the artist's body and usually ends up splayed out on the floor, dripping, awkward, and lovely to behold. If there's any genre of music whose appeal relies on this admittedly precious idea of art, it's folk. There's something about the typically traditional instrumentation all wreathed around the voice of the pastoral poet that leads audiences to pay attention.