father-john-misty

Josh Tillman’s role within Fleet Foxes has been largely over exaggerated. By his own admission, the band’s two albums to date had been fully written by the time he was anointed their drummer. He just had to learn the parts.

It hasn’t boded particularly well for Tillman that ‘Fleet Foxes drummer’ is how he’s become introduced – a prefix (about a fucking drummer, of all things) that places his lowly position in a band much bigger than him above his achievements as a solo musician about to release his tenth album, and his second as Father John Misty. Things will stay this way for the next month or two, no doubt, and then Josh Tillman of Baltimore, Maryland, will simply become Father John Misty, just as John Grant’s ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ marked his belated, true arrival, and pushed him on from being the ex-singer of a cult American band you don’t know called The Czars. Someone will mention Fleet Foxes and Josh Tillman, and you’ll think, that’s right, he was in them, wasn’t he. Forgot about that.

The music of Tillman shares something more with Grant and his 2013 breakthrough album, though – something more than ‘Pale Green Ghosts’’s plain excellence. ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ spends a lot of time pushing the deadpan reverie of Grant’s ‘GMF’ to hilarious new ends in stealth fashion. Each track – a majority of which are stylised as ’70s AOR songs that are unquestionably American born, uninhabited plains either side of the dust road that Tillman flies down with a country twang on his lips that also sometimes recall Elton John – features a lyric that at first you’ll deny ever happened, and then look forward to each time after that. In ‘Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgin)’ it’s ‘I wanna take you in the kitchen, lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in’; in ‘Strange Encounters’, ‘You’ll always only be the girl who almost just died in my house’. It takes guts to play with songs so perfectly formed as these, like that – to risk the accomplishment of the track not being taken seriously all of a sudden, to undermined the ambitious orchestrations and golden era AM radio easy listening melodies for a joke about overdosing, or a track title like ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’. Of course, it’s Tillman’s musicality, and the glossy way that these tracks have been put together, that makes you double take ‘she gets down more often than a blow up doll’ in the first place, and it’s that that elevates Father John Misty from being a parody artist. The bottom line is, the gags are good, but the songs are always better.

The opening title track aside, and the electro-pop anomaly of ‘True Affection’ (more Caribou than The Eagles, and an odd presence that is forgiven for its sweetness and simple, gimmick-free brilliance) ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ is clearly an ironic title for this collection of songs, which are, by all accounts, rotten at their core. They sound like love songs, but really they’re lust songs, at best, and Tillman’s author is, by all accounts, a bit of a shit, who sleeps around and takes too many drugs. On ‘Ideal Husband’ – pounding downwards like a modern day Noel Gallagher single – he doesn’t even like himself, confessing his ill wills before ‘Holy Shit’ then goes on to list everything that’s fucked up in the world. ‘Strange Encounter’ is something like a reimagined Bond theme, where 007 almost kills the girl.

Perhaps it’s Father John Misty as an antidote to the American dream that makes ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ such a compelling and addictive listen. That underneath this beautiful sounding record things are pointed toward a seedier truth. Although it could just as easily be that, plain and simple, songwriting has triumphed here. After all, before Josh Tillman’s comical, black words fully register, you’re already trying to remember them. Josh Tillman – he used to be in some band or another.

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