For the past several months, I have been falling off the bandwagon of new music. Even though I limit the number of mp3 blogs I subscribe to, I'm really sick of the hype machine, and the endless cycle of mass consumption it encourages. Most sites don't have anything new or insightful to offer about a new piece of music, they just want to get credit and legitimacy for posting it. And timing matters the most. If you're like me, the more you hear about something, the less you want to go discover it for yourself. I never consistently checked Pitchfork, but I am disgusted by the amount of information on their site, most of which is useless opinion, meaningless wordplay, and arbitrary ratings. And not to mention the question of the validity of reviews in general. (I will say, though, that interviews with musicians can be really insightful- those are definitely worth reading on any site.) The old joy of being a listening pioneer is stolen by too much exposure. Gone are the days of digging deep for new and interesting "indie" music, and the delight of burning mix CDs with new artists for your friends. Technology via the advent of the mp3 and the ease of digital music distribution has changed the music industry completely, and I'm not sure it's a positive revolution. (It's hard to understand the huge changes that are occurring now, and way easier to look back, huh? This book is relevant to this discussion.)
With that said, one negative result of disengaging from the music blogosphere has been missing out on some of my favorite artists' new releases. Frankly, I don't have time to visit artists' websites for updates anymore. Since they update at least daily, blogs have become the best news source. Notably, I missed the announcement of J. Tillman's new album, "Year in the Kingdom," which leaked back in July. I managed to locate it, and have been listening to it for a few days now. I stink at writing reviews, so I won't. Intrigued by its obvious Biblical imagery, I googled and found this thematic review/impression describing the album as "Christ-Haunted." I never liked Flannery O'Connor, probably because I didn't understand the characters in her stories, but even I can appreciate this phrase. If I didn't know any better and I wasn't already a fan, I'd stamp this one "boring" and move on. There are no catchy hooks to grab my attention while I am listening at work. The instrumental arrangements are more stark than his previous albums, and the lyrics possibly more bleak. But all this signals to me that this is an extremely thoughtful work of art that requires full attention listening. And even meditation, perhaps. At only 27, what does Josh Tillman know that I don't know? A lot, it seems, and very deeply. If he is indeed honest in his work, what a weary and sober soul he possesses.
Excerpt from above mentioned post:
Tillman's music is Christ-haunted not simply because his lyrics are vaguely Psalm-like, with references to rolling hills, pastures, kingdoms, and light. It is Christ-haunted because in every way, across and within songs, whether through mood established by his beautiful yet spartan guitar or his mournful lyrics, Tillman shines light on man's most central yearnings. Common to non-Christians and Christians alike (at least to those who are remotely honest with themselves) is our longing to make sense of a beautiful, joyful world that is equally filled with death, suffering, despair, guilt, regret and shame. Hoping that one day in some way our lives and our world will be made right, some hope in the political process, some in social justice crusades, some in their spouses or families, and some in the death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ.