Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear review – wows the listener outright

(Bella Union)

Despite the saccharine title, this second album by Father John Misty – latest incarnation of former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman – is not a soppy record. It’s a record in which a flawed man approaches the likelihood of a happy romantic ending with an erection, self-doubt and incredulous, blossoming delight. It wows the listener outright, swerving confidently around genres and eras, piano balladry and perverse synths, throwing in grandiose string arrangements and enough lyrical grist to keep listeners milling well into 2015.

He’s a prolific guy, Tillman. There is a previous Father John Misty album, Fear Fun, from 2012, in which psychedelics and self-obsession loom large. A slew of more dour records came out under his own name – J Tillman – in the 00s. Yet Tillman is still probably best known as a Fleet Fox, even though he quit their drum stool in 2012. (Anyone holding out for new Foxes should note that Robin Pecknold is currently an undergraduate at Columbia; there may be a wait.)

Solo, Tillman has been a bit of an acquired taste until now, one with a sideline in provocation. He recently streamed his new music on a bad, lo-res service he called SAP. In November he performed Bored in the USA, this album’s least-good piano ballad on US TV, complete with ironic canned laughter, self-playing piano, an orchestra and beehive-poking lyrics. “Save me, white Jesus,” it goes. If that song has pricked people’s attention, it’s all to the good, but its otherwise trenchant observations on being sold short by sub-prime loans are lost in its pursuit of controversy.

I Love You, Honeybear is actually an album that reaffirms your faith in the transformative powers of love. It persuasively declares that shuttered cynicism might not be the intelligent singleton’s only rational response to a cold world. It demonstrably transforms this middling singer-songwriter into a 21st-century balladeer of candour and elegiac musicality, with a taste for “mascara, blood, ash and cum”.

People like Tillman – biblically bearded, snappy dressers, living complicated musicianly lives – sneer at the trite idea of true love, at conventional monogamy and then: bam. Love happens to them. Tillman now wants to “put an end to our endless, progressive tendency to scorn”. There is a beautiful soul song here called When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, less smutty than it sounds, about the terror of losing this new, wonderful feeling. Massed soulful backing “ohs”, and organs swoon along. Tillman re-loses his virginity on Chateau Lobby No 4 (in C for Two Virgins). Holy Shit expresses his feeling of being banjaxed by love in the face of his better judgment. “Love is just an institution based on human frailty,” muses Tillman. “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity.”

A few songs here date from before Emma Garr, the cinematographer Tillman married. The country-ish lope of Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow is typical of this pre-Emma caustic ennui. The other songs track Tillman’s considered leap into love, his narrowed eyes widening, not daring to believe. The Ideal Husband lists all Tillman’s faults. There are many. “Didn’t call when grandma died/ Spent my money getting drunk and high…”

Poetically, the album ends with the beginning. On the album’s highlight, I Went to the Store One Day, Tillman meets Garr in a parking lot and asks her her name.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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