What does a drummer use for contraception? His personality. What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer. What do you call a beautiful woman on a drummer’s arm? A tattoo. Never let it be said that there’s a dearth of drumming jokes in the world. Sticksmen get a bad rap; correspondingly, an album written and performed by a drummer is rarely cause for fanfare. Then again, drummers like Josh Tillman – he of Fleet Foxes fame – don’t come around very often.
His so-mellow-it’s-comatose music suggests otherwise, but Tillman is a paragon of industriousness and ambition. A Year in the Kingdom is Tillman’s sixth studio offering, and his second of 2009. A cynic might accuse Tillman of cashing in on the overwhelming success of his day job. Given that Fleet Foxes have spent much of 2008-9 touring tirelessly, one might expect this album to be a hastily-baked triumph of quantity over quality. On the contrary; A Year In The Kingdom is as lovingly crafted and spacious an album as you’ll hope to find. Certainly, the album bears many of the trademarks of Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut – woodsy, shimmering, harmonious, uplifting – but Tillman is a guy very much working to his own beat (as it were).
In keeping with form, the album is gorgeously understated; where many singer-songwriters beef up their work with layers of strings, dots, loops and glitches, Tillman has bravely stripped back each song to its most basic components. There they stand; naked, robust, honest and sure-footed. Occasionally, you’ll find the odd flourish, harmonising vocal or orient-inspired string lick, but this is an album that barely moves out of first gear. -Though I Have Wronged You’ is a mere whisper of a song, but it leaves the listener misty-eyed with melancholy. Elsewhere, -Earthly Bodies’ is so beautifully ethereal that it packs the sort of punch that most acoustic albums can only aspire to.
Make no mistake; this is not an album for those who appreciated the anthemic, crowd-pleasing crossover appeal of the Fleet Foxes’ debut album. But anyone looking for an understated opus that’s by turns autumnal and iridescent will find plenty to love here.