What’s in a name? If it’s Father John Misty, a lot of irony and polished angst. I was quick to write off Joshua Tillman’s recording persona as just another anti-religious bit of rock and roll irony. I Love You, Honeybear changed my mind with a kind of simple sonic sorcery that changed my mind and made a convert of me. I love it when I encounter an artist who’s current album is so interesting that it prompts you to explore their back catalog, only to find a stockpile of great albums waiting to be discovered. That’s exactly the cause and effect Josh Tillman’s music had on me. Although that stockpile seems to have found it’s creative zenith with I Love You. Honeybear.
On first listen the ex Bon Iver drummer’s 10th album (second as FJM) played like a warm homage to ’70s rock acts like Don McLean, John Denver and Elton John. “Chateau Lobby #4” with it’s guitar and horn section sound every bit as warm as some golden AM classics.
in equal parts Tillman evokes the nature vistas of 1970s folk pioneers like John Denver and the melodic structures of classic Elton John.
Bernie Taupin however seldom wrote songs so coiled with angst and snappy wit. The angst here is similar to that of John Grant, except Father John Misty seems to have no regrets about his past. While there are contemporary interpersonal issues, I could not help but wonder how and if Tillman was scarred by his religious upbringing. The cover art suggest he may have been and likely contributes to the lyrical angst of his music.
That’s part of the beauty of I Love You Honeybear, it sounds sweet and loving on the surface, but is bitter and almost acidic in it’s lyrical scope. In contrast to the somewhat playful title song, the rest of I Love You Honeybear is just as delightful in it’s varied sarcasm. There’s dark humor and moments of amen in Father Misty’s church as he preaches to battered and bored males in pointless relationships.
The sarcasm is not without humor. Funny lines like “I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on, why don’t you move to the delta” on the narcissistic ex girlfriend song “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” are sprinkled throughout the album. There’s a funny twist on the song’s music video too. He does all of this while keeping his arrangements within the timeless realm of classic ’70 styled pop rock.
The some of the album’s strongest moments come when a bit of foreboding mystery mix with wonderful backing vocals as on “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me”. In sounding like The Duke and the King, Tillman recalls what a modern day Don McLean or Nick Drake might sound like.
Musically, the past is not the only inspiration here. “True Affection” addresses social isolation via social media and communication via devices in an electronic music style. Despite sounding different from the more ’70s inspired tracks, it fits the album thanks to the wonderful harmonies and Tillman’s inviting voice.
I love you Honeybear was one of 2015’s most acclaimed albums making a lot of best of lists for good reason. Tillman’s previous album from 2012, Fear Fun was nearly as acclaimed and would have been a tough act to follow. I think (or hope) we hear a lot more from Father John Misty in the future. Judging from Tillman’s two Father John Misty releases, he should not have any problem winning over new converts to his church of melodic irony.