Though I suppose it doesn’t matter so much on record, Father John Misty definitely looks the part. The identity adopted by Josh Tillman, at least as far back as the exemplary 2012 album Fear Fun, calls to mind some odd and mildly lackadaisical man of the cloth, which is roughly what the singer-songwriter presents with his lanky frame, propensity for bargain suits, and a beard so thick and bodacious it looks like the merest provocation could send it scuttling off to begin a new life as an especially posh footstool. He looks like he’s comes in from a gnarly forest after a misguided spirit quest, or maybe he’s presiding over some chill SoCal cult that worships melancholy melodies.
Luckily, it’s not only the visuals that help sell the persona. Tillman crafts music that resonates with a spirituality of the creative soul. He’s a storyteller who somehow mixes a fabulist streak with a commitment to fierce emotional honesty. He’s constantly engaged in spinning a tall tale of impeccable truth. On Fear Fun, that often manifested as a modernized version of the nineteen-seventies saga-spinners of the Laurel Canyon scene, as though he were co-writing with the ghosts of his newly claimed Los Angeles home. Accordingly, the new album, I Love You, Honeybear, moves forward on the fictional time continuum by a few years, with Tillman’s alter ego making a record that smacks of the greatest late decade disco-soul that never was. “True Affection” begs for a floor of flashing rainbow lights that folks might get around to dancing on once they’re done nursing their Tanqueray and Tabs, and “The Ideal Husband” lopes along like it’s lazily trying to make it way through a torrential downpour of shiny streamers. It’s party record for the part of the night when eighty-five percent of the attendees have collapsed into the rec room shag carpeting or wandered off to sleep in the shed.
It’s also a great record about falling in love, precisely because it addresses the transformative experience as less misty wonderfulness and more of an opportunity for confusion and a healthy touch of panic. As he sings on “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” (candor is one of the defining qualities of the album), around some moody, softly-intoned guitar licks that could have been transplanted from a John Lennon record, “I can hardly believe I’ve found you and I’m terrified by that.” On some level, it’s the story of his courtship with Emma, who became his wife, and while Tillman occasionally betrays some twisty complications (“The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” opens with the lines, “Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man/ I mean like a goddamn marching band”), it’s clear the relationship is ultimately a victory for him. As the album opening title cut asserts with gallows affection, “But don’t ever doubt this/ My steadfast conviction/ My love, you’re the one I want to watch the ship go down with.”
I Love You, Honeybear has the intimacy of an album composed entirely on acoustic guitar, in a lonely room with a cigarette burning nearby and a glass of scotch untouched but ready in case of emergency. But it’s also been given added sonic richness with the deployment of tender strings, unobtrusive piano, and, in one memorable instance, a coldly ironic laugh track (on “Bored in the USA,” which has been an cool kid sensation since Father John Misty introduced it last fall). Tillman says the textures stem from Emma confronting his artistic struggles by saying, “You just can’t be afraid to let these songs be beautiful.” In opposition to Tillman’s initial worry, that choice didn’t turn the tracks into treacly glop. Instead, it gave him the fortitude to take the next appropriate step as a creator, finding the right backdrop for a flaying open of his suddenly, spectacularly vulnerable soul.
(picture nicked from elsewhere)