Any album’s story that originates with the artist hopping in their van with “enough mushrooms to choke a horse,” and continues with them driving down the California coast in order to find their narrative voice, is bound to enflame one’s curiosity, if not flat out scorch it to the bare earth. This is how the story of Fear Fun, the first album by Josh Tillman, began. It ended in a shack in Laurel Canyon, and the result was spectacular. Renowned for its humorously creative lyrics, dreamscape imagery, and insight into modern culture that cuts to the bone, Fear Fun was a wildly entertaining piece of folk rock. Josh Tillman had found his voice in Father John Misty.
Fast forward 33 months.
After rising anticipation, and several instances of the album release date being delayed, Father John Misty has bestowed upon the masses a second album, I Love You, Honeybear. The origin of this album can be traced back to Laurel Canyon, to the parking lot of a funky little county store, where Josh Tillman met his future wife, Emma Elizabeth.
I Love You, Honeybear is meant to be a portrait of modern intimacy, a grand commentary on love and affection in our modern world. Sure, I guess so. If viewed through a wide lens, in its more abstract form, it could be construed as a general discourse on the subject. However, when taken at face value, you realize some of the songs are simply love songs to his wife. That’s cute and all, and artists penning songs to lovers has created some of the best baby makin’ music available. However, when you make your way through the track list you start to notice a running theme, and by the end it’s fairly apparent you just listened to a 45 minute ode to Mrs. Tillman. Let’s examine the evidence:
- Songs’ devoting/detailing his love.
- Songs’ detailing a story of why he’s done with the single life.
- Song telling other men to stop hitting on his wife when he’s out of town.
- Song about the first time he and his love first met, and how it changes his life.
- Song entitled “The Ideal Husband.”
I mean, come on, there’s only 11 tracks on the album, and an argument can be made that 9 fall into one of the above categories. You could find a broader range of subject matter scrawled across the inside of a bathroom stall. It’s tantamount to a 5 page gushing love letter you wrote in high school, except it’s funnier, exhibits acute intuition, and is vastly more honest about physical intentions. Namely fucking like demonic animals.
If you couldn’t tell, the narrow scope of the album bothered me. One of the things I loved about Fear Fun, was you never knew what was coming next. This album felt a bit telegraphed; perhaps I should have seen it coming with an album title of I Love You, Honeybear.
There. I’ve vented, it’s out there, and I’m done. Let’s talk about what was great about this album.
The lyrics are hysterical. Something about his blunt deadpan honesty being delivered in his deranged lounge singer style is highly comical. He knows he has good timing, and uses it to his advantage when writing and performing his songs. Forgive me if my words fool you into thinking this is a comedy album, although now that I think about it, there is a laugh track played several times; that’s probably just a coincidence. Tillman is simply amazing at capturing the absurdness of life at times, and the self-conscience plagued interactions we face on a daily basis. He expresses that captured moment with brilliant clarity, exhibiting a lack of sensitivity to social protocol, and in doing so, wins over the audience with his authenticity. One of the reasons the onslaught of romantic sentiment isn’t overbearing is that his take on it is fresh, and he approaches the subject from an unorthodox angle which is easy to relate to, and at the same time find humor in.
As a whole this album shows a strong desire to grow as an artist. Individually the songs feel more polished than in Fear Fun, and there is a sense of approaching the process in a more professional manner. The choice to incorporate more instruments helped with the journey into a wider range of genres, and the gambles in a few well-chosen moments with his vocal range paid dividends. In “I Went to the store One Day” he exudes his sensual form of folk, backed by a lightly fingerpicked guitar, and accented with a gentle touch of a violin. During his rendition of “The Ideal Husband,” he gets as close to a rock song as he ever has before; it’s fast paced, there’s drums, there’s guitars, screaming is involved. And although it’s listed above as evidence of the album being too sappy, the song is actually a laundry list of sins, bad habits, tales of poor judgments, and instances of being an outright asshole. So it’s got that going for it.
When describing this album, I’m reminded of a scene from Mr. Quentin Tarantino’s movie, “Kill Bill: Vol. 2.” In it Bill’s brother, Budd, is asked to rate a rare and expertly crafted sword against another made by the same swordsmith, Hattori Hanzo. Bud replies, “If you’re gonna compare a Hanzo sword, you compare it to every other sword ever made… that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.”
That’s how I feel about this album. Standing on its own it’s a solid album, one which I will certainly listen to for years to come. Compared to many other albums of the same genre, I find it to be far superior. However, compare it to his first album, Fear Fun, and it suddenly seems slightly dulled. My recommendation is you go get both albums, have a full-on Father John Misty revival party, and get as weird as you can with some complete strangers. Life is too short to be normal. Go throw caution and clothing to the wind and see what happens. Who knows, in 12 months you could have your very own folk album.
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear – Track listing
- “I Love You, Honeybear”
- “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
- “True Affection”
- “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”
- “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me”
- “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”
- “Strange Encounter”
- “The Ideal Husband”
- “Bored in the USA”
- “Holy Shit”
- “I Went to the Store One Day”