Music

I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty (album review)

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A strange thing happened when Joshua Tillman (aka Father John Misty) took to the stage of The Late Show with David Letterman late last year to play the lead single Bored of the USA off his forthcoming record.
Tillman begins by gently tinkering on the piano, before softly crooning to camera, rising to unveil the string orchestra backing him and then softly curling up atop his piano. Then as he moves towards the crux of the song’s lyrics (“They gave me a useless education/ a subprime loan/ for a craftsman home/ keep my prescription filled”), audience laughter and cheers fill the room.
When he gets round to finishing the audience (the real one that is) doesn’t really seem to know how to handle it. It’s one of those bizarre moments where the conventions of the form are tipped on their head in front of you, without warning and without a real way of understanding what the hell has happened.

 
Bored in the USA could be this generation’s lackadaisical response to Springsteen’s touchstone Born in the USA. But instead of the government forgetting about those who served in a forgotten war, it’s the muted anguish met with a round of applause.
It’s a beautiful indictment of overt capitalism (“I’ve got all morning to obsessively accrue/ A small nation of meaningful objects”), shallow relationships (“I’ve grown more disappointing to you/ As my beauty warps and fades”) and religion (“Save me, President Jesus!”).
And it’s a pretty good example of what I Love You, Honeybear is all about and what makes it a pretty special record.
Tillman has been releasing music for about the last 10 years, first under the name J. Tillman, played with indie rockers Saxon Shore before joining the critically adored folk rockers Fleet Foxes as a drummer. In 2012 Tillman left Fleet Foxes (he said his influence on the group has been greatly exaggerated) and released his first record under the Father John Misty moniker: Fear Fun.
Produced with Jonathan Wilson, the record (released through Sub Pop) is heavily influenced by Tillman’s recent marriage, perhaps unsurprisingly with a title such as I Love You, Honeybear. You can hear the echoes of Tillman’s former group, as well as that of prominent mid-western folk-rockers Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens.
The record constantly keeps you on your toes, yet is swathed in such a delicious array of musical accompaniment that it can lull you in to a sheer sense of awe. Tillman’s lyrics jump quickly from earnest declarations of devotion to pithy, profane and scathing. It‘s can be slightly off-putting on a casual listen, but hides a labyrinthe mine or those willing to take the plunge.
Throughout its 45 minutes, Tillman subtly alternates between genres and styles, yet the album feels like an organic whole; True Affection is a blast of snyth driven pop, backed by a scattering electronic drumbeat, Nothing Ever Happens at the Goddam Thirsty Crow a pinch of lo-fi country twang, while The Ideal Husband is an up tempo bouncy rocker.
It’s all held together by Tillman’s ethereal, haunting vocals and the scalpel-like precision of his lyrics (such as on The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt. when he says  “She says, ‘like literally’ music is the air she breathes /I wonder if she even knows what that word means – well it’s ‘literally’ not that”).
It’s a record about love but doesn’t contain one singular wisdom or fix-all sentiment; complex, crazy, emotionally wrenching and occasionally devastatingly cutting. You get the feeling that sometimes TIlman’s just kind of making it all up as he goes along, unsure what the hell he’s supposed to be thinking, feeling or saying, though perhaps on the recent day international forced Hallmark sentimentality, that’s what love really is all about.

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