With an unadorned and gallant style, J. Tillman makes dark and quiet folk music, laced with proverbial silver streaks and highlighted edges that give his songs surprising contrast and depth.
Relatively unknown outside his role as drummer/harmony vocalist with the Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman is a prolific singer-songwriter in his own right; Year in the Kingdom is his sixth album since 2005.
The album is made of simple, spare acoustic arrangements, with piano, hammered dulcimer, banjo, strings and percussion rounding out his strummed guitar. While it's no surprise that Tillman is an accomplished and satisfying singer, his melodies fall into a similar, arching pattern, resembling one another, song by song.
Lyrically, Tillman leans heavily toward vaguely Christian imagery—kingdom, garden, valley, crosswinds, darkness and light—but it feels scattered and disconnected. He doesn't give the impression that he's explicitly dealing with any personal religious beliefs, leaving many of his lyrics as an indistinct jumble, ungrounded and ultimately often falling short of his ambitions.
Tillman is at his best with darker lyrical themes, and with "There Is No Good in Me," he reaches for a wretched, vile despair. "I possess a taste for blood / I have numbered mankind's days," he sings, perhaps from the perspective of some ancient demon, reincarnate in the modern world.
Whatever his faults, Tillman's clear talent in arranging acoustic instruments to draw richness from simplicity and his strong voice make Year in the Kingdom pleasing, perfect for a quiet room and watching the twilight fade to darkness.