With a slew of understated folk records secured under his own name and a hell of a fun time had playing soft percussive noises for Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman returns to his Father John Misty project, where he mixes esoteric lyricism with brazen folk rock arrangements. I Love You, Honeybear follows on from Fear Fun.
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Wearing the folk rock curse on his back -- doomed forever to be that drummer for Fleet Foxes, a band he claims he never really had that much involvement in anyway, and by the way, how is S. Carey doing? -- J. Tillman has actually released an endless slew of solo records, rivalling John Darnielle in focus and musical fastidiousness. While his first seven efforts (and that’s only going back to 2004, by the way) went under his given name -- suggesting a stoical, pissed off folkie with little more than an endless pool of torch songs to draw from -- he has since switched to the high and wild moniker of Father John Misty. There’s a tangible difference between the two; where J. Tilman’s music sounded lonely and darkened -- doing little to update the traditions of artists like Neil Young and Tim Hardin -- Father John Misty is a rather ludicrous folk project, playing out satires of the genre and even ignoring it completely for electro-pop washes.
‘Fear Fun’ marked a drastic change in Tillman’s tone, if not his sound: songs like “Writing a Novel” were aloof and alive with a new magical power, and others eschewed the supposed sincerity of folk songwriting for asshole tirades similar to recent Mark Kozelek antics. On ‘I Love You, Honeybear’, he goes further away from his origin story, bringing about songs of lewd synth-pop, and others that sway away from conventional lyricism and fill the room with those things we call bad vibes. His songs continue to have the sardonic glee of Stephin Merritt, if he actually felt love in his heart: the gorgeous, swelling arrangements of “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt” are juxtaposed with lyrics in which Tillman both mocks and respects a woman who uses the word “literally” too loosely. It’s kind of awful, really: it reminds me of all the times Sufjan corrected Miley Cyrus’ grammar on his blog, which isn’t something I want to hear transposed into song. That said, for every sickening Tillman lyric there are a few good ones: only he could wring out a line like “I just love a kind of woman who can walk over a man / I mean, like a goddamn marching band”, one that reveals its power in its very last blow.
‘I Love You, Honeybear’ is possibly Tillman’s most evocative and diverse work yet, in so far as it seems to throw caution to the wind and exist in any style he deems proper: sloppy organs whirr away in the background of the otherwise soft and eloquently arranged “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me”, and the mix of strings, moaned harmonies and burning guitar on “Strange Encounter” are arranged as if they’ve been produced for a scene in a James Bond movie where he gets thrown off the force (or: they sound kinda like George Michael). The ornamentation is impressive, but it doesn’t amount to much; the further Tillman goes away from being your everyday folk songwriter, though, the further he gets away from his best work: ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ sounds like a Belle & Sebastian album -- funny, condescending and catchy, but not much in it for your heartstrings. To sum it up: “The Ideal Husband” sounds like a Robbie Williams song I once heard, and Tillman is probably cool with that.
9/10 Andrew Revis Customer review, 29th July 2015
Josh Tillman had over a decade's worth of solo performances and eight solo records under his belt, as well as a four-year stint playing drums in Fleet Foxes, before he realised he didn't really like what he was spending his days doing. So he was reborn as Father John Misty, a rakish, crooning, folk lothario; a showman, a hipster, a sex symbol. With Fear Fun in 2012 Tillman - sorry, Misty - took a firm step away from the lush harmonies and lavish arrangements of Fleet Foxes and the bleak, austere songs he had put his previous name to. His second debut was constantly wisecracking and a bit too clever for its own good, but it did have a stunning lead track and he does have a glorious beard, so few complaints.
Fear Fun was also a lonely record - funny, cynical and honest, yes; but also lonely. Its follow up, I Love You, Honeybear, retains the wit, the cynicism and the honesty but is anything but lonely: this is Misty/Tillman's falling-in-love record. It still sounds a bit '70s, a bit MOR, but on further inspection reveals itself as something approaching a timeless masterpiece on love and courtship, recalling the best of Lee Hazlewood, Harry Nilsson, Elton John and even Randy Newman.
Song one, verse one: 'Mascara, blood, ash and cum, on the Rorschach sheets where we make love.' Recounting as it does early relationship revelations, expectations and doubts, I Love You, Honeybear makes for a riveting if somewhat prurient listening experience. Just looking at the pictures of the happy couple frolicking in the sleeve might be a bit much for some. Misty's songs sometimes take the form of a pretty straightforward love letter ('For love to find us of all people, I never thought it'd be so simple.'), but more often are a bit warped, a bit aloof and a bit obtuse: 'I haven't hated all the same things as somebody else since I remember.'; 'When You're Smiling And Astride Me I can hardly believe I found you, and I'm terrified by that.'
It also stands to reason that Misty - not necessarily Tillman - is a bit of a dick, whether on this album's confessional moments - 'I've done things unprotected, and proceeded to drive home wasted... I've said awful things, such awful things...' - or as the cruel womaniser he apparently was before he met his now wife: 'She says, Like, literally, music is the air she breathes, and the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream. I wonder if she even knows what that word means - well it's literally not that.'
But for all his bluster, Misty is full of self-loathing too, as insecure as the rest of us: 'You see me as I am, it's true: the aimless, fake drifter and the horny, man-child, Mamma's boy.' 'I wanna find somebody, but not like this. I'm a decent person, just a little aimless.' Whichever tone he takes, the music here is uncommonly beguiling and often moving, and with it Tillman has, along with the likes of Beck and Sufjan Stevens, marked himself as a true auteur, a progressive, innovative voice of great substance and depth.
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