February: I Love You, Honeybear – FATHER JOHN MISTY

I came across FJM surprisingly recently – I say, surprisingly, because as soon as I heard his 2012 album Fear Fun, I wondered how I could have missed something that so was squarely up my street. He has all the credentials – former drummer for Fleet Foxes, crazy religious upbringing, impressive beard and sharp suit, and *those* incredible lyrics, a mixture of cutting, self-loathing and self-loving, or just plain plaintive.

I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR doesn’t mess with the formula, but if anything it’s an even more impressive piece of work. There isn’t a weak track on here and most of them are absolute humdingers. Tonally, it’s quite an odd mix – and I heard him on the radio (Dermot O’Leary, on R2 – which was rather bizarre!) explaining that half the album are angry songs of being pissed off at himself and others in matters of love and life, and the other is a really very touching love letter to his new wife. You’re unlikely to hear a more romantic songs than Chateau Lobby (“People are boring, but you’re something else”).

Now, I know we always get onto that discussion of authenticity and influence, so this record is a GREAT one to look at in that context. The band and the songs seem to me to be seeped in two obvious styles – one is country music (and 60s/70s country influenced singer songwriters), and the other is Beatles-esque (well, McCartney-esque, actually) melodies, all gorgeous descending chords or sudden explosions into beautiful middle 8s or choruses. God damn, but Josh Tillman (for that is his name) knows how to write a song. And no, they don’t feel ‘contemporary’, though the sequences on True Affection, for example, are a nice nod to the 21st Century. So yes, this is a record influenced by 50 years of rock music.

For me, there are two things that elevate it into something spectacular. The first is that authenticity thing. This guy means every word. We went to see him live on Friday (at the Brudenell). It was, needless to say, a fucking fantastic gig – and I can’t think of the last time I saw a performer throw every ounce of himself into a show. He feels this shit, man, and he cares about his songs. The 6 piece band were slick and brilliant and they rocked hard too. This guy isn’t an amateur. Oh, and THAT VOICE. Like honey.

The other thing that places this record squarely in 2015 is his lyrics. The darkly modern takes on the universe is so deliciously paired with this classic sound. I’m completely sold. You’d have to look hard to hear a better skewering of an individual than the vicious lyrics to The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment. In the wrong hands, this could almost feel mysogynistic, but you know he’s known this girl and he’s here to tell us just what a fucking pain in the arse she is. (“She blames her excess on my influence, but gladly hoovers all my drugs”. Love it!). And what about the piece de resistance – Bored in the USA. Eviscerating is the word. He just nails it, he nails everything that’s wrong about Western Culture in a song that could easily come across as pastiche. This an album steeped in anger, confusion, lust, love and fear. What could be more 21st Century than that? 😉

He does play with you a bit (see the fake piano playing on the Letterman appearances above – and the weird laughter track on the song, which I initially hated and now love), and I guess it’s hard to know where Josh Tillman ends and Father John Misty begins. But that’s part of the fun. If this isn’t my album of the year, or very, very close come December, I’ll be amazed. I hope you liked it just as much.

10 comments

  1. misterstory

    I am finding this a funny one. On paper this should be my favourite album of the month for a long time. However, I have found it really difficult to get into. I’ve had this on loads during normal daily activities and found it a bit annoying. It really demands attention. As ‘background music’ (for want of a better term) it sounds very normal. As Brother David writes it is the lyrics that are the strongest aspect of this album and if you can’t hear them then you miss it! Duuuh. I honestly haven’t had much time to spend with this alone but when I have I have enjoyed it much more. There is more than a hint of smugness to his character that I can live with and perhaps enjoy but did find distancing at first. The Night Josh Tillman …. is my favourite track and reminds me massively of John Grant. In fact, I think there are loads of parallels between Pale Green Ghosts and this album. Listening to Father John has made me listen to John Grant loads and I think I have concluded that I probably underrated the John Grant album first time round (although I have always rated it). Nice one Brother Guy it is a gift that keeps giving. The two albums make a very interesting double-bill. Bought together by qual parts self-loathing, dark humour and misanthropy but separated by instrumentation (‘True Affection’ aside) and the Atlantic?

  2. whyohwhyohwhy

    I’ll make some poor excuses for not replying to this before and this will only be a brief response as I’m out and avout today but this is one of the best things I’ve listened to in years. It really has blown me away.

    There’s such richness to the music and glorious lyrics, with echoes of John Grant, Elton John, Fleet Foxes own harmonies (of course), but it’s everything from the wistful but acerbic Bored… to the rollicking Ideal Husband. It really has everything.

    The question is: how on earth have I only come across him now?

  3. misterstory

    Interesting that Brother Guy made the John Grant comparison too. I think we were writing those comments in isolation? I’ve had more of a chance this weekend to get more intimate with this album and it is quality. I’m still not sure if I like the dude but this is a great piece of work.

  4. nolankane706

    I agreed with many of the artists he sounds like, especially John Grant on a few of the tracks. I’d also like to throw Rufus Wainright into the mix.

    Like brother Joseph has highlighted, this album has actually brought me back to a few other albums.

    The Father John album took a few listens for me to get into. At first it was lacking to stand out to me from the forementioned others, until you listen to the lyrics…. oh lord, the lyrics. I agreed with David, this guy comes across like he means every word.

    I like his frankness, and lyrically the journey he takes you on with every song. There haven’t been many albums that have done that to me recently.

    His voice is strong too, it has allot of parallels for me to many country / folk artists such as Neil Young, Blue Rodeo, etc.

    Over all a fantastic album and one I will be telling people about for sure!

    (I’m very gutted that you didn’t invite me to this show brother David… i remember you used to invite to gigs. Did I say something?)

  5. David Allison

    Sorry, Nolan, it sold out ridiculously quickly, I should have thought!

    Glad you guys are enjoying it as much as I am. Brother Joey, I know what you mean about whether you ‘like’ him, but I really admire his honesty and the fact he’s very raw about how he portrays himself in just as flawed a way as any of his other protagonists. You get a real sense of both the bullshit and the fun of being a musician in LA in the 21st Century. The John Grant comparison is so spot-on: both marry classic arrangements to very honest, very modern lyrics. And both are brilliant!

    Incidentally, I haven’t yet recommended this to anyone who didn’t like it! And you guys must check out his previous album, Fear Fun, which is just as good.

  6. misterstory

    There’s plenty of artists that Im pretty sure I’d hate in ‘real life’ but I own everything they’ve ever produced. I’ll check out the 1st album on Spotify.

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      I’ve bagged tickets to see him in London in October and I can’t wait. I’m going to check out the first album as well. If it’s half as good as this then it’ll be another favourite.

      It’s funny. We’ve talked about eclecticism on albums before and how some just don’t gel, but I’m going to contradict myself here and say there’s a lot of stuff going on on this one and it’s one of the reasons I love it. Yes, he had an overall “sound” but he bends it in very interesting ways (True Affection, Ideal Husband). And all the while it sounds authentic.

      That terrible phrase: authenticity. Hard to put your finger on but you know when you know. In the same way that Bon Iver really sounded like For Ever… Was heartbreak in a wooden cabin in the wilderness, this sounds exactly like a dichotomy of heartbreak and love. It’s wrapped up so intriguingly. I love the music first before I even properly read this (I’d listened three or four times before I’d seen the blog) and so what’s behind it was even more of a bonus and now the album is unfolding in ever-rewarding ways.

      And this is someone I probably wouldn’t have gone near without recommendation. Go figure.

  7. misterstory

    I’ve stopped trying to listen to this at home, our life is such chaos that I just don’t get to appreciate it. This is a car and headphones album for me!

  8. misterstory

    My favourite lyric …
    “But my baby, she does something way more impressive than the Georgia Crawl
    She blackens pages like a Russian romantic
    Gets down more often than a blowup doll”

  9. whyohwhyohwhy

    Revisting time. Jesus, this album pretty much has everything for me. It can make me laugh, cry and sing – often in the same song – and may be one of the best things I’ve listened to in ages. I can guarantee it’ll be in my top 5 end of year list even now. I rarely connect with (brilliant) lyrics and songwriting like this, but his song and wordcraft are sublime, and I am in the process of buying Fear Fun.

    It’s simply one of the most wonderfully crafted things I’ve laid ears on for a long long time. Brother David, I salute you.

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