Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
A great part of me hears that iconic Alfred Eisenstaedt image from Life magazine, when listening to the debut album from the Pacific Northwest's Pearly Gate Music. The new signee to Seattle's Barsuk Records creates a dizzying kind of euphoric climate that might only be possible after such dark and scary times. It's a climate that requires banishment of some of the still images of the mind and it requires putting a happy face on and just shaking off the sleet and clouds and opening the curtains - praying that there's some sunlight to greet you. It's in everything that Zach Tillman - the younger brother of Fleet Foxes drummer and brilliant solo folk singer J. Tillman - gives us in his hallowed lyricism and the depths of the richness that he sends out through his bleeding heart throat. It's an offering of benevolence and scarred and scabbed aching, touching us where it hurts, offering a salve, even if the salve itself is still reeling from sadness and despair. It's the elation in the Eisenstaedt photograph, of the sailor bending a stranger in a white nurse's outfit backwards and engaging in a spontaneous, passionate kiss that seemed as if it couldn't have been helped or avoided. It's a moment of rejoicing, as the surrender of Japan was confirmed and the big war came to an end. There in the middle of Times Square, the military man was so taken with the emotion and found the closest girl to lock lips with. The photograph seems to exhibit two very significant and distinct parts of the worldwide mindset at that time: one of a blooming hopefulness, an elation that couldn't have been more fitting, and then a radiating kind of depression from all of the bad things that so many men and women had seen during the fighting of this bloody, six-year war. It's what explains the spontaneity that could produce such a kiss between two complete strangers. And it's that sad-eyed, tainted heart of those who were witnesses to the evil and killing that happened in the fields and cities of the Pacific that's wishing for better dreams, for rest and for the happy ever after - certain that times will be markedly improved as the worst has hopefully passed. But these boys and girls are different and they have matured beyond their years. It's the way Zach Tillman always sounds, singing at the beginning of "I Woke Up," "I woke up drunk from the sun, sitting on your patio/Sand in my tea, wine on my shirt…/These words are not my words/They leave me tired and absurd/Did you see this coming?/You must have seen this coming." He continues, "I feel awake but alone," and we're instantly cognizant that we're in the presence of a young man who is really more of a complicated old man, with a complicated, conflicted old man heart. He's an old man with tons of questions left, tons of swirling and confusing emotions and statements to make. He talks about having "bad nostalgia his whole life," and "Navy Blues" is another song that feels as if it should be heard as a timeless lost cut from 70 years ago, a song popular on the poor, folk circuit, sung in the parlors after dinner and coffee, or by dirty poets with holes in their knees and their elbows. We're overcome by Tillman's gorgeous and provocative writing, giving us the kinds of poignant and cutting truths/insight that one like Kris Kristofferson does with every single line he's ever written. A song like "Gossamer Hair," contains bits and pieces of everything that make Tillman one of the most promising new artists in the country. It shows his sensational energy when he sings, "Oh God, I'm an animal/Don't tell anyone you saw me in the state I'm in," freaking out in ways, and then gently bringing it down again, like a feather taking a nap, singing about the dreamy lightness of some hair he's fond of. It's a lightness and a fever that he's always drawn to and he's absolutely got our attention, our ears.
Pearly Gate Music MySpace Page