Album Review: Father John Misty, 'I Love You, Honeybear'


     I Love You, Honeybear is the second album Josh Tillman has made under the name Father John Misty. It's the darkest collection of love songs I've ever heard.

When Fear Fun was released, I looked at the moniker as Father John Misty as some kind of front, a created character — from his songs to his stage presence to the material of his lyrics. I even once asked Josh Tillman if he prefers using a stage name and if it's affected his songwriting. He blew me away with his answer, that making music under the guise Father John Misty has allowed him to make some of the most honest music he's ever made, that he felt like being Josh Tillman was more of a front than anything. I chewed on that for a while and ultimately realized that in order for him to let go and try to live up to his own name, he can honestly let go and make the music he wants to make under a different name, Father John Misty. With the album Fear Fun, he established himself as a witty lyric writer, having a dark passion, looking at the world with humor, and having the Father John Misty ego to create onstage performances screaming with that of an indie rock sex symbol.

The new record, I Love You, Honeybear, is in the style of what I've come to expect from Father John Misty: It's smart, dark, funny and full of enough unfiltered self-realizations about his own being that you'll be forced into examining your own shortcomings after listening to the record.

But there also are plenty of things I didn't expect. For example, this album is a record about love. I mean, it really is — although he plays with the idea of what we expect out of the love-song formula, and puts the Father John Misty dark-and-witty twists and turns on it. I'm pretty confident that I can call this a concept record on life and love. And its timing makes perfect sense, as Tillman married his wife after the release of Fear Fun; his feelings for her are all over this album, which is where I feel the singer songwriter (and human being) Josh Tillman and the swaggering, stage performer Father John Misty are closer to being the same person, more so than on the first record.

Apart from his lyrical abilities, I really love the music arrangements on a number of the tracks: "I Love You, Honeybear" has a cool country-rock, pedal-steel vibe; "Chateau Lobby 4 (In C for Two Virgins)" has a great moment when the mariachi horns are playing; "When You're Smiling and Astride Me" sounds like California in the '60s and early '70s with its simple pop, yet cheesy movie-score arrangement. Another example of a song that sounds like California is "Strange Encounter," which to my ear sounds like the score of Valley of the Dolls meets Gram Parsons. "Bored in the USA" and "Holy Shit" have simple arrangements, yet powerful messages in the lyrics. Father John Misty is saying all the things about life that we are all too afraid to admit to ourselves.

One of my favorites from the record is "The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apartment," with its Beach Boys-like pop sound. The lyrics made me laugh out loud a number of times — not in a "funny, ha-ha" way, but in a "Damn, this guy is clever" way. The song "Bored in the USA" has made me burst into tears on a number of occasions — not in an "I'm so sad" way, but in a "Damn, this guy is clever" way.

In promoting the record, Josh Tillman most definitely is wearing his Father John Misty hat. He set up a fake streaming service on his website called SAP. He offered his new songs as free streaming, but basically posted really low-quality MIDI versions of his songs — to drive home the point that he wants you to hear is music in a more high-quality fashion. He showed up on Spotify and performed his songs while singing over those low quality MIDI tracks. The joke is on anyone who doesn't understand what Father John Misty is all about.

So, what is Father John Misty all about? I don't know for sure, but I'll let you know when I get it figured out. I sure do like the guy though — his brains, his attitude, his presence, his lyrics, his humor. Just like with Fear Fun, I'll be picking this one up on vinyl.

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