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J Tillman Year in the Kingdom Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Happy to sound unhappy despite the fact that, critically, he can do no wrong.

Chris Beanland 2009

Joshua Tillman sounds like he has the weight of the world upon his shoulders – but this is no weary old man singing of a life of loss and regret. For Seattle, Washington’s Tillman is still (just) in his twenties, and has simply adopted the timbre of a hobo busking on a bench with a can of strong lager at his side.

Unlike most hobos, though, the ups and downs of life have not turned Tillman into a ranting maniac; instead, he purrs over sparse songs. But what he does have in common with most guitar-toting vagrants is that he has confessions to make about what he’s done wrong. This is most evident on the track Though I Have Wronged You – a delicate, thoughtful affair.

Of course by rights Tillman should now be producing X Factor-style song and dance extravaganzas in celebration of the almost universal acclaim that has been lavished on him in the last couple of years. For, as the drummer with Fleet Foxes, he’s been on the receiving end of countless positive reviews written by middle-aged music journalists who love the band because they channel the spirit of ‘greats’ like Nick Drake and Neil Young.

But Tillman is happy to sound unhappy despite the fact that, critically, he can do no wrong. Although slightly more upbeat than his previous effort, Vacilando Territory Blues, Year in the Kingdom still makes for a pensive listen.

There are still moments on this album when his minimal, finger picking approach can verge on the soporific, but these moments are the exception rather than the rule. The highpoint comes when Tillman breaks free of his self-imposed shackles and surges forward on the song There is no Good in Me. For a moment here he builds a choral crescendo that rivals Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon at his chest-banging best.

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