Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Joshua Tillman sings about holy visions and a barren spirit on "Age of Man," a song from his latest album, "Year In The Kingdom," his sixth effort. These holy visions are thorny and sometimes depressing, likely what are leading to these dried up, barren spirits that are briefly discussed. Tillman has discovered his own biomedical engineering to enable his throat to contain both the frozen ice of a stony gaze and a hearth when he sings directly to us in his piercing and touching manner. He gives us holy visions by way of their tripping vines and gray clouds, overcastting and problematic as if the visions are just enough askew to make one wonder how any of it's going to work out this time. There is thievery around the corners, takers and leavers and a reason for pessimism if the dawns weren't so refreshing, if the fresh fruit in the bowls, on the tables in the "kingdom" weren't so appetizing and mouth-watering to behold.
Tillman embraces the ebbs and flows of daily life with his careful and breakable, charming and luring voice, giving us both sides of the razor as he does it - lifting us from the stagnancy of where we often can find ourselves and placing us just out of the reach of the gator's snapping jaws, or in this case, somewhere between heaven and hell, alive and dead, or holiness and a godless, barren spirit. He tend to feel as if we know where he'd like to put us, where he'd like to exist himself, with those holy visions being projected large and in high definition across everything visible, but this is not altogether plausible. "Year In The Kingdom," seems like a tease of an idea - not the music or the songwriting, mind you, just the idea - an exercise in contemplation that has Tillman's figures and characters imagining what will all come of everything, of them and how the eternal darkness is supposed to (they say) develop like a photographic image into this kingdom up there, down there or over there somewhere.
The title track of the record leads it off and it's the second shortest cut on it. He sings, "I spent a year in the kingdom, on my way through the garden," and there's a sense that it's all in passing, as if even a stay in the kingdom - if this is in reference to some kind of idyllic afterlife is obviously entirely debatable as well, but we go with it - is temporary, with the journey still ahead. Maybe it too will get old and become somewhat draining. The final song on the album, "Light of the Living," gives a feeling of angelic wings, as if someone's graduated as a guardian and is being placed back on the ground for watchfulness and those sorts of responsibilities. Like all of Tillman's writing, "Year In The Kingdom," is rich with allusions and stunning melody, hints to the kinds of thoughts that come to men and women who believe in the vastness of everything, who lean toward the thought that all is not just as it seems and that there is a depth to everything that never comes close to being plumbed.
We have no idea what we're doing here or what's to happen to us tomorrow, when we get old or when we die. It's enough to make one sick with madness, but Tillman lets it calmly settle him and he gives to us his extrapolations in the form of songs cut from pure snows as well and from the pretty, but sad bouquets of flowers lovingly places upon tombstones years and years after a death, by someone who chooses to continue remembering, loving and thinking, "We'll find each other where we promised/The tide is low for man and spirits," or as Tillman sings on "Howling Light," "Deafening in the wait/As your waking days unwind/Now the living are alive."