J. Tillman’s 7th full-length record is called Singing Ax and was recorded in three days, February 2010, by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago. Bob Weston mastered the album. If you are pressed for time, tracks 2 “Diamondback”, 4 “One Task”, and 6 “Tillman’s Rag”, should give you a general idea what the record’s about. Very few of the songs feature accompaniment, though a few include mellotron and drum machine (track 1, “Three Sisters”, for example). There is something of a drum explosion at the conclusion of track 11 “A Seat At The Table”. The lyrics are predominately third-person narratives, save for a few stock-in-trade existential musings, such as the title track.
Year In The Kingdom unravels some kind of galactic wilderness. Tillman’s 6th album lyrically borders on mystic; proffering a transcendent union, an effortlessness. Strange and honest, this song cycle inhabits it’s own idea-scape; one seemingly obsessed with wrestling death. These are afterlife dialogues of a mysterious future. Celestial badlands.
Unknown to just about everyone, Tillman started recording in April, tracking most of the instruments during the two week session himself. Hammered dulcimer, banjo, recorder, cymbals of varying size and wheezing air organs all feature heavily and lend YITK it’s bizarre scale, conjuring tidal shifts with tiny movements. The string arrangements, performed by Jenna Conrad, as well as transposed from Tillman’s sung direction, were intended to rest on chords almost counter-intuitively, bringing to bloom complex, decontextualized tones. Most noticeable upon first listen, however, is the production itself. While most of Tillman’s records evidence some shambolic home recording, YITK is undisturbed throughout. Out up front of the mix, and dry as a bone, Tillman’s voice is featured in a way unlike any of his previous records.
YITK sounds liberated; it is far and away Tillman’s most joyful work. Created with little input or context, it is seemingly disinterested in communicating much else than a meditation for the few who allow themselves to listen with an open heart.
In 2008, Tillman joined Seattle band of longtime friends and musical collaborators, Fleet Foxes.