Since the release of his debut way back in 2012, Father John Misty, a.k.a Josh Tillman, has been quite busy. He got married and – feeling a sense of new found clarity and sense of enchantment that only marriage can bring – set out to write a record about love and compassion in a way that was genuine and thoughtful. Of course, this album was anticipated to be world’s different than his debut since adopting his quirky moniker, Fear Fun, which was more of a psychedelic romp in the haze of folk-rock. Tillman knew this, which is why he didn’t want to write his own experiences with a personal subject in such a way that was generic and overly sappy, like a Disney movie over saturated in saccharine. In an interview with Pitchfork, he says “I’m so afraid of being misunderstood that I don’t give people a chance to understand me in the first place,” and, as a listener, we have to respect that despite this, he manages to create gorgeous, lush sounds that perfectly encapsulates these feelings. Starting off the album with the title track, Father John Misty establishes the content for the vast majority of this album right away – his wife Emma. Honeybear has to be a pet name of some sort, but this track is far from cheesy. Tillman’s voice swoons and swells, giving it a drunken, whimsical feeling that only gets drunker as the album proceeds. “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” is the first folk song that shows its face, and it’s all about the first night he spent with the woman that would soon become his wife. The instrumentals dance with Tillman’s upbeat, sweet voice, calling his wife by name and begging her to take his last name, seeing as though “dating for twenty years just feels pretty civilian.”
Based on these lyrics (and, basically the ones that encompass the whole album), it’s clear to see that Tillman’s intense writing skills and his brawn from his experience as the drummer of Fleet Foxes hasn’t waned in the slightest. “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” gives an honest recollection on the theory of what love actually is, while “Strange Encounter” is rife with falsetto and passionate vocals. There’s humor and whimsy in his writing, like in “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our House,” which is about a dismal one night stand, and “True Affection,” a song about his annoyance with technology and how it limits our view of love and the world around us. And of course, there’s the sarcastic ballad “Bored In The USA,” where frustrations with the hypocrisy and materialism in America are portrayed in a four minute rant. Almost everything – the housing market, organized religion, healthcare, and education – are addressed, along with the ironic inclusion of a laugh track. Sure, we laugh, but underneath these words, it seems wrong. There’s a hidden layer of despair and disappointment underneath what’s heard as humor, and it’s absolutely brilliant. Another recurring theme in this album is the way the instrumentals sway and loom over Tillman’s gorgeous, passionate voice. “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” sounds like Tillman should be hunched over a tattered microphone in a dusty old saloon, with him gyrating and singing, eyes closed. The lush instrumentation is one of the key factors in this album being such an amazing one, simply because it’s clear that steps were taken to ensure that this sort of sound doesn’t get overtly sappy. In fact, it’s messy and sloppy at times, which only adds to the theme of love and it’s unpredictability. Overall, it’s a magnificent second album, where Father John Misty finds a way to make love sound like something real.
photo by Emma Tillman