J.Tillman – Singing Ax

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.

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Why I Love #3

Angie Mack writes a wonderful blog entitled Satellite for Entropy.  She does other things too obviously, but it’s through this blog that I came to know her.  She lives far away in a land full of poisonous animals but, in between trying to stay alive, she has taken the time to contribute ‘Why I Love #3.

I don’t really know what to title this one, so I’ll just let you read it yourselves.  And remember, if you’d like to contribute a piece you can do so by dropping me a line at mini50records@hotmail.co.uk

Do check out Angie’s blog.  In the meantime, enjoy:

I was sure I was going to have an epiphany, that a revelation of sorts would occur somewhere down the line if I just gave it enough time. When I decided to write this, I thought it would be easy purely because there are countless things in the world that I love, some of them easy to explain why, some of them impossible, but I felt confident there would be at least one which would ultimately become the obvious choice. So I sat down with my thoughts every so often and examined them and the things I love, piece by piece like they were a box of old things I’d brought out to see if there was something I could dust and make all shiny.

I say old things because this process is not something new to me. I spend a lot of my time simply thinking; examining and exploring the intricacies I find in things – in music, in words and stories, in the world…in myself. I think that there are microcosms, little worlds of thought, to be found within everything. Thoughts which can be delved into and where the possibilities for discovering connections to other things is potentially infinite, perhaps limited only by the scope of what I know, understand and what I’m prepared to include in those thoughts.

When I write about the things I love, I tend to meander quite a bit, stray from the point (if I even have one) and often leave thoughts unfinished – sometimes because they can’t be ‘finished’, they exist without conclusion and just like to wander about in various places, taking a sightseeing tour and meeting up with other strays from anywhere and everywhere. It’s similar to what would happen when my mother brought out the box she kept under her bed.

When I was very young, sometimes on rainy days or just when the mood struck her, she would take it out and we would sit on her bed as she went through the things she kept in there – momentoes – and told me stories. Her hands would trace over faces in photographs, familiar to her but always strangers to me, while she told me who they were and things they once said, which would inevitably lead into other memories and stories. My understanding of the places she’d travelled, the memories she shared, was very limited and I’ve long since fogotten many of the details of the things she told me, but not the significance of reasons why she kept all those things, or the sheer pleasure of the ritual, which I now use almost every time I think about anything.

And so, when I sat down with my thoughts, I wanted to find something of similar significance to me and out came all the things I love and have kept to one side in the hope of one day finding the right way – or in some cases the courage – to tell their stories. At the top are the reasons why I love music, and why I love writing about it. Then there is my love of words themselves – a word that is a shape-shifter and speaks sometimes like Shakespeare, other times like Homer Simpson. There are books of ancient fairy tales, pebbles, old jewellery, new boots, stars, cheese, empty bottles of perfume, ticket stubs, colours and maybe even a universe in there, which makes the task of finding just one thing to talk about a difficult challenge, but I love going through them, remembering why they’re important, imagining other things or simply indulging in the process of thought.

Which is one of the things I love most, those moments in time when my mind wanders as it wonders, and I will invariably love anything that gives me the opportunity to do just that. As to the reasons why… I’m going to have to think about it some more.