There is an undeniable spiritual element to J. Tillman's latest record, Year in the Kingdom. The album's opener and title track tells of a man beginning a journey toward something larger, something beyond the physical dimension. Tillman's soulful yet relaxed voice quivers over a chord progression that is dragged and strained. On "Crosswinds," the use of guitar, hammered dulcimer and muted percussion gives the listener an inkling of what feeling Tillman is trying to convey — one of love, loss and transition. The lyrics on this album, Tillman's sixth, are mysterious, although not as dark and lonesome as one might think. He is telling stories, in some cases miniature allegories, of what beauty it is to pass from one point to the next, either from life to living or life to death. His focus on such concepts is thought-provoking and incomprehensibly complex.
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"Age of Man" is the album's apex. Though the song's placement does expose the plateau that precedes it, where stronger rhythmic and tempo variance may have established greater emotional depth, Tillman's lyrics nonetheless come through with weight and sincerity. Year in the Kingdom is a well-written album whose stripped-down instrumentation ironically gives it greater character.