Mezzic readers, my name is Amber Valentine and I am creep. I don’t mean that in the sense that I like to repeatedly and perversely hit on underage ladies until restraining orders are threatened, but rather that I, much like Thom Yorke before me, am a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? Well, currently, I’m telling that I’m sort of strange and that’s good enough for me. I mean, I play with spiders. I read books on medical oddities and research strange diseases. I’m an oddball and this, naturally, carries over to my taste in music. One may have gotten the impression from my recent posts at Mezzic that I’m all about heartache driven girlie music but the fact of the matter is that if I could pick one genre to ally myself with forever, it would be folk.
It was recently said by my friend Steph that if I were a houseplant, the directions to keep me healthy and bloomin’ would be: “water with whiskey twice weekly, does well with second hand smoke, and pairs well with acoustic guitars and facial hair.” The libations and cigarettes? I got that part covered. The acoustic guitar and facial hair? Well, that’s where Pearly Gate Music steps in.
The interesting thing about Pearly Gate Music is that, talent aside, the band should be garnering a significant amount of buzz for familial ties alone. Instead, however, it seems Pearly Gate Music is becoming indie rock’s buried treasure. You see, Pearly Gate Music is the project of Zach Tillman. You may know his sibling, J. Tillman. You may also know his sibling’s band, Fleet Foxes. Considering the fact that Fleet Foxes were called by many the best act of Lollapalooza 2009, (Not to mention to the amount of press they garnered or the number of “Best of 2009” lists they ended up on), the indie side of press should be all up on the younger Tillman’s Pearly Gate Music.
That being said, however, Tillman’s lineage has nothing to do with Pearly Gate Music’s talent. In fact, it was months into my affair with Pearly Gate Music before I knew that the group’s anchor member was a Tillman in the “related to J. Tillman” sense so I can say without bias that Pearly Gate Music has churned out not only 2010’s best debut disc but also the best folk album of the year.
I’m the same way with music as I am with boys. That is to say, I pretty much fall in love at first sight. Now, this is made tricky on the “boys” half of this proverbial scale because I’m honestly not sure if I believe in love at first sight so much as I do intrigue. Regardless of what word you want to use, I fall hard and I fall fast. It ends with skinned knees, on occasion, but, boys aside, when it comes to music, “I fall hard and I fall fast” is the most accurate statement one can make about my listening patterns. You see, I knew I was madly and passionately in love with Okkervil River upon hearing the first line I ever heard Sheff sing (“Red is my favorite color”, for those keeping track at home). I just knew that I had found a band that I needed in my life. Upon digesting all of their then-available discography in one marathon sitting, I realized how right my first impression had been. It was love, in it’s truest, darkest, folkiest form. Sure, things can grow on me after a while (For instance, I didn’t much care for The National when I heard them but ended up becoming quite passionate about Berninger and company after a long courtship) but the bands I end up feeling the strongest for are always the ones that stick around. Pearly Gate Music, I feel, is going to become one of those bands.
I knew it with the opening refrains of the bare bones “Golden Funeral”, which starts with nothing but Tillman’s voice singing “You turned your friends into lovers and your lovers, now they’re all gone.” With only the very sparsest of sparse background noises, Tillman is left with nowhere to hide. It’s a bold move to start a debut out in such a way and it works in Tillman’s favor. Not only does it showcase his strengths as a vocalist and his songwriting ability, but it also makes the catchy, sing along second track all that more of a pleasant shock.
The juxtaposition of “sparse” and “catchy” is what Pearly Gate Music is all about and it’s a great formula. For every “Navy Blues”, there’s a “Daddy Wrote You Letters” to counter the former’s subdued pace with a fetching alt-country melody that’s hard to shake. Combine the two sides of Tillman and you end up with “Gossamer Hair”, a tune that finds Tillman alternating between his Pearly Gate Music alter egos with beautiful results.
As you turn a more attentive ear towards the younger Tillman, you’ll find that music isn’t the only thing that Pearly Gate Music juxtaposes. You see, Pearly Gate Music is equal parts talent, heartfelt earnestness, and humor. Tillman doesn’t take himself too seriously, as is perfectly evident on “Oh, What A Time!”, a song that plays out as a fictional date with… Jesus Christ. “The only man I ever loved,” Tillman sings “Died two thousand years before I could ask him to show.” Is the song a send up on people’s faith? Does it have sincere roots? Who cares! It’s kind of conceptually awesome! So, naturally, it’s sort of a stroke of genius when Tillman sings, whilst on their fictional date, “Jesus Christ, put (your stigmata) away! I’m trying to eat!”
For those wondering, the date ends in disaster. This could all be a clever metaphor for Tillman’s own loss of faith or it could just be realism – Seriously, when was the last time you had a first date go good? As he “leans in for the kiss, (he says) ‘God, I don’t think I can do this.'”
If that doesn’t at least illicit a smirk from you, well, I just don’t know what’s wrong.
Pearly Gate Music has a timeless quality about it. The recording is obviously d.i.y., an effort of love by Tillman and his friends, and that makes the achievement all the more lovely. Don’t ever change, Pearly Gate Music, and I’ll be yours forever. I mean, seriously. I don’t know what it is about those Tillman boys but everything they touch turns to gold.
Is 1,000 plus words not enough Tillman for you? Check out when I initially fell for Pearly Gate Music all the way back in July on Radio Free Chicago. Then? Head over to everyone’s favorite music discovery tool, Daytrotter, to see what Tillman did at the Horseshack.