If there was a way to bottle a voice and feed it to those most in need of relaxation therapy then the voice that would be chosen would be J Tillman’s. Without a doubt.
Most of you will remember this man from last year when I voted his record ‘A Year In The Kingdom’ in my top 10 records of 2009. There was also a lovely review of his show at Nice N’ Sleazy’s by my friend Heidi Kuisma. A show I tragically missed due to a broken headlight in my car.
Anyways, ‘A Year In The Kingdom’ was, and is, a stunning piece of music, made even more impressive by the fact that he had already released a brilliant record in the form of ‘Vacillando Territory Blues’ at the beginning of 2009. Joining Fleet Foxes as their drummer at the end of 2008 undoubtedly helped raise his profile as an artist, but let’s not forget that the man, discovered and propelled forward by city mate Damien Jurado, was already an established artist with a small, but cult, following. And deservedly so. However, similarly to Jurdao I have no idea why his following is not bigger than it is. It really should be.
‘Singing Ax’ is J Tillman’s seventh full length record. And it could well be his bleakest and best to date. There is something old worldly about this record. Something that makes me think of times past. Times lost. Times missed. From the moment ‘Three Sisters’ starts you know that you are in for a sparse, bleak and mournful record that will suck you deep into it and take you on a difficult journey before releasing you back into the real world.
Make no mistake, this record is all about Tillman’s guitar playing and voice. And his words. The sparseness of the recordings allowing the words to take centre stage and highlighting Tillman as not only a talented songwriter but an ever increasingly brilliant poet. Had a band been employed on these recordings then I think a lot of the beauty would have been lost. When the instrumentation is used – such as the drums at the end of ‘Our Beloved Tyrant’ – it is done so perfectly and subtly to lift the track for just a mere instant. And then it’s gone. In the blink of an eye. Allowing Tillman’s voice to take back command of the audience.
‘Mere Ornaments’ is as bleak as it gets. Almost medieval and religious in tone, Tillman’s voice is at its most eerily beautiful and poignant on this track. It’s probably my favourite on the record and I don’t think I can explain why. There’s just something magical about it.
This really is a dark record. At times it feels like walking through a dark, haunted winters forest. The branches reaching out to try and grab you and pull you in. Yet you can hear a voice. A voice guiding you through the darkness and to the other side. It’s a lovely juxtaposition that J Tillman manages to perfectly create. Never more so as on closing track ‘A Seat at the Table’. The music dark and disconcerting, the voice perfectly soothing and beautiful. You feel like you’ve made it through the darkness by the end. It’s a pretty great feeling. I really don’t think I can do this album or this artist justice with my words. He never fails to amaze me.
You can check out Singing Ax and J Tillman here. Please do. Enjoy.