Release Date: Feb 10, 2015
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Self-awareness and sincerity have always been crucial tools of the singer-songwriter trade, which is why it was so refreshing when Josh Tillman exploded onto the scene with Fear Fun, his 2012 LP as Father John Misty. After years toiling away in Seattle peddling his self-described "sad wizard songs," here was an album filled with fun and linguistic frivolity, with Tillman waxing poetic about war, waste and his own mortality, all within just one soulful song about mankind's obsession with oil ("Now I'm Learning to Love the War"). Throw in the jokes he'd pepper his live show with, and Tillman was quickly becoming the Grand Fool of folk rock.Now, everything has changed.
A strange thing happens three quarters of the way through Bored in the USA, the first single from former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman’s new album under his Father John Misty alias. The song begins life as a downbeat piano ballad. The lyrics find Tillman in the midst of the kind of existential crisis that has plagued confessional singer-songwriters for decades, gloomily ruminating on the mindlessness of modern-day life, the pointless acquisition of objects and the multifarious ways in which the daily reality of a relationship fails to live up to an idealised notion of love: “I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the ways I grow more disappointing to you as beauty warps and fades, and I suspect you feel the same.
Love. A big word to start a review, but it’s the word that dominates I Love You, Honeybear, the second album from Father John Misty. This is not, however, a love that comes adorned in flowers and dripping in greeting card sentiments, not the love that’s dominated pop songs for sixty years.
Josh Tillman’s first album under his Father John Misty moniker seemed to come somewhat out of left-field a couple of year ago, and then ended up becoming one of the biggest word-of-mouth success stories of recent times. After toiling for years with a string of solo albums under his own name, and then joining Fleet Foxes to drum on their Helplessness Blues album, nobody really expected this new identity to be his big breakthrough. Yet Fear Fun was a absolute gem – a strange, otherworldly journey through one man’s depression that, unbelievably, still managed to be accessible, endearing and, at times, laugh out loud funny.
On 2012's Fear Fun, Josh Tillman introduced audiences to Father John Misty, a jaded and erudite, faux-bohemian retro-pop confectioner with a strong surrealist bent and an aptitude for capturing the American zeitgeist via wry couplets concerning the culturally and morally ambiguous wasteland of southern California. That penchant for gutter-highbrow confessionalism still looms large on his second long player, the lyrically and musically bold, and often quite beautiful, I Love You, Honeybear, but the drug-addled, disaffected Laurel Canyon drifter who served as the cruise director on Fear Fun has been replaced by a man trying to come to terms with the discombobulating effects of love, especially as it applies to his nihilistic alter-ego, which is mercilessly stripped of that ego throughout the 11-song set. The newly married Tillman is not incapable of self-effacing satire (witness the exhaustive "Exercises for Listening" instructional pamphlet, which is worth the price of the album alone), but he peppers those bone-wry moments ("I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in," from the dizzying, weepy strings and cavernous percussion-laden title cut) with instances of real soulful brevity ("For love to find us of all people/I'd never thought it'd be so simple," from the exquisite, sparse, heartfelt closer "I Went to the Store One Day") -- the ballsy "Ideal Husband," a frantic laundry list of past digressions, best supports both predilections.
J. Tillman is a self-aware heartthrob, a rugged, imperious man who’s convinced he’s the ultimate specimen for breeding. But here’s the punchline: he’s also the kind who’d ridicule you for objectifying him in such a simplistic manner. In truth, he’s a jokey pragmatist, one who’s unafraid to shit on himself in a first person narrative without the slightest apology.
At first glance, former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman's Father John Misty persona is burdened with the sort of overblown, nostalgic trappings that invite knee-jerk skepticism (see Del Rey, Lana). Fear Fun introduced Tillman's slimy, snark-laced parody of '70s “Me” generation singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne, Harry Nilsson, and James Taylor; folksy meanderings like the willfully eccentric “I'm Writing a Novel” peddled in a wistfulness and meta sense of humor that was alternately endearing and groan-inducing. Tillman created Father John Misty when, as he put it in a 2012 interview with No Depression, he realized he had an “obligation to start including my sense of humor and my actual, true, conversational voice in my music in order for it to be exclusive to me, and not to be just my best stab at trying to be a preexisting idea.
Josh Tillman might look like a hipster Jesus, but he’s more very naughty boy than Messiah. Resurrecting himself, so to speak, as Father John Misty in 2012, the solo songwriter and one-time Fleet Foxes drummer cut what was the best record of his career in ‘Fear Fun’, an exuberantly self-loathing, druggy affair which reinvented its author as a kind of fucked-up ladies’ man. Now he’s back with ‘I Love You, Honeybear’, a self-described “concept record about a guy called Josh Tillman”, which is a terminal smartarse’s way of saying it’s a confessional – and what a revelation it turns out to be.
Early last November, a handsome, bearded songwriter going by the name Father John Misty appeared on "Letterman" to perform a ballad called "Bored in the USA". Blazer pressed, shirt-collar open and eyes shut tight in concentration, Misty, whose birth name is Josh Tillman, sat at his grand piano, that great totem of solitude and opulence, wringing out lyrics so alienated you wondered how he made it out of his yurt, let alone to the spotlit world of late-night TV. After a line about his own irrelevance ("By this afternoon I'll live in debt/ By tomorrow, be replaced by children"), Tillman turned away from the piano and took center stage.
Love and the apocalypse have never been so intertwined. Being open and vulnerable requires the dissolution of the ego, a razing of the scaffolding of self-importance. Father John Misty’s work hinges on the difficult truth that he must level himself to allow room for another. Over its 45 beautiful but tortured minutes, I Love You, Honeybear weaves a complicated narrative of love gained at the expense of the individual.
Review Summary: I've said awful things, such awful things. While it’s likely unintentional, the release of I Love You, Honeybear the week of Valentine’s Day makes for an interesting juxtaposition. The latter is a largely invented occasion for manufactured romance propped up by the service industry.
Josh Tillman’s backstory is so sprawling and strange, it reads like an impossible hybrid of assorted rock myths. The 33-year-old singer/songwriter grew up in a stifling Christian household, fled to Seattle at age 21 to work a series of dead-end jobs, shopped around a series of self-recorded solo albums, joined indie-folk trend-setters Fleet Foxes as a drummer, had a psychedelic spiritual awakening inside a California oak tree and quit the burgeoning band at the height of their cultural saturation—only to re-emerge as Father John Misty with 2012’s Fear Fun, a set of lushly tongue-in-cheek Laurel Canyon gems. Tillman’s creative persona feels like a natural extension of that weirdness: He’s part cultural provocateur (see: his recent low-fi streaming service gimmick), part hippie-rock satirist, part soulful balladeer.
Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty persona burst into being with the release of Fear Fun in 2012. The witty, irreverent and picaresque tales on that album seemed a long way from the slightly bloodless beauty of Tillman’s former band, Fleet Foxes, or indeed previous solo material released under his own name. With the new identity came a swagger that we hadn’t really seen before, and a sense of the fun to be had in excess and debauchery, reflected back and amplified from the lyrics to the music that framed them.
Despite the saccharine title, this second album by Father John Misty – latest incarnation of former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman – is not a soppy record. It’s a record in which a flawed man approaches the likelihood of a happy romantic ending with an erection, self-doubt and incredulous, blossoming delight. It wows the listener outright, swerving confidently around genres and eras, piano balladry and perverse synths, throwing in grandiose string arrangements and enough lyrical grist to keep listeners milling well into 2015.
Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman debuted "Bored in the U.S.A." — a highlight of his ornate second LP as Father John Misty — on Letterman with a Celine Dion-worthy string orchestra, a wayward laugh track and prankster soulfulness. "Save me, white Jesus. . . . /They gave me a useless education/And ….
‘Fear Fun’, Josh Tillman’s first album under the Father John Misty moniker, was a folk pop romp aimed at airing the wry sensibilities he kept pent up during his years with Fleet Foxes. An opportunity for emotional exorcism, Tillman was clearly having fun, even if the combination of shaking hip refrains and snarky lyrical quips often cast him as the guy you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party. One could never accuse Tillman of hiding behind his characters, all which have only served as the thinnest of alter egos for the freewheeling troubadour.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There can be no discussion of I Love You, Honeybear--Josh Tillman's sophomore album under the Father John Misty moniker--without first acknowledging just how problematic the persona appears to be. His ethos (and appeal) is extracted directly from a bit of that hazy Californian mysticism which so shaped the rock n'roll of the mid-70s.
In terms of audacious ways to announce a new album, the way Josh Tillman heralded the arrival of his second as Father John Misty takes some beating: appearing on Late Show With David Letterman, in front of a full orchestra, crooning the state-of-the-privileged-nation address Bored In The USA while curled, catlike, on top of a grand piano before adopting the prayer position to plead, “Save me White Jesus. ” It’s jaw-dropping stuff: an ambitiously lush, satirical ballad sung by a dishevelled playboy. Fortunately, I Love You, Honeybear proves it wasn’t a one-off.
Only in this day and age could the most human album in a long time be produced by an alter-ego. Joshua Tillman's second go-round as Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear, finds the character going through every cycle of life, from lust to love to fear to hopelessness to depression to loneliness, only interrupted by the occasional bout of happiness. Not that I Love You, Honeybear is a depressing record, or even a particularly sad one, because throughout, the humor and the beauty of both the music and Tillman's voice play antidepressant.
There are some albums that you’re told you need to love, and there are albums that you fall in love with without any critical nudging. Two years ago, I traveled with two reporters and a photographer to Austin to cover South by Southwest. For the 11-hour drive, we easily had more than 2,000 albums at our disposal with our array of laptops, iPhones, and iPods.
Father John Misty is Josh Tillman, former Fleet Fox and folk rocker turned sentimental crooner. Or rather, Josh Tillman is Father John Misty, the hallucinating Casanova doused in sentimentality and hooky melodies. His second album blends these two personas, exploring Tillman's past salacious exploits - maybe autobiographical, maybe not - and his discovery of love and marriage.
Following a lengthy stint as a brooding solo singer-songwriter and as the drummer for choral-folk outfit Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman decided to rebrand himself as Father John Misty. Originating after a mushroom-fueled revelation, the moniker became a full-on persona, a goofy, mystical Lothario who sang about Canadian shamans, talking dogs, the pretensions of writing a novel, and ass-based skin grafts on his promising 2012 debut Fear Fun. Preternaturally self-aware and simultaneously difficult and endearing, like a less divisive Lana Del Rey-type, Tillman’s musical alter-ego found him approaching music from a satirical and almost cartoonish head space.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK Joshua Tillman’s decision to record under the moniker Father John Misty was more than a name change; it was an emphatic musical revamp. 2012’s Fear Fun was his eighth studio album overall, but it felt closer to a debut, substituting a more vibrant, chromatic palette in place of the dimmer, vainglorious tones of Tillman’s early work. No doubt influenced by his four-year tenure as the drummer with the now dormant Fleet Foxes, Tillman has found greater success transcribing his former band’s blueprint while retaining his own outlier persona.
“This album is not a tribute to Charlie Parker,” the alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa writes in the liner notes to “Bird Calls.” That’s about 50 percent disputable, or, to put it another way, just true enough that he could have made the album without any reference to Parker, in its titles or otherwise. The pieces on “Bird Calls” — a strong new record by a strong new quintet — are not versions of Charlie Parker songs. Nor are they new melodies based on their chord changes — a process that is such a normal part of jazz that it doesn’t need any explanation when other people do it on their records.
We first met Father John Misty as Maryland native Josh Tillman, drummer for Philly post-rock act Saxon Shore at the turn of the millennium. After moving to Seattle and becoming a prolific singer-songwriter, he joined Fleet Foxes in 2008 after a slew of solo releases, three of which appeared on local imprint Western Vinyl after he joined the Pac-NW folkies. In 2012, he did an about-face on Fear Fun, his first LP as FJM, adopting a Jim Morrison-like confrontational poet persona.
When the songwriter J. Tillman decided he didn't want to write sad, slow, self-serious songs anymore, he morphed into the fancifully named Father John Misty. After a few years as drummer and backing vocalist in revered indie-rockers Fleet Foxes, he chucked his past projects and personas – and his music and career have been all the better for it. The second Father John Misty album, "I Love You, Honeybear" (Sub Pop), crackles with wicked humor and tell-it-like-it-is directness.
When Beck took the cosmic-folky route on “Sea Change” and last year’s equally masterful “Morning Phase,” his unblinking sincerity only deepened their conviction. Father John Misty’s “I Love You Honeybear” takes a more ramshackle approach to the same style, with vocals stretching into the distance, strings drenching fingerpicked acoustics, and saloon pianos aplenty. But with a default mode of arch snarkery, Misty doesn’t have much to say; he gets off a sharp line here and there, but can’t string them together into anything greater.