Artist: Father John Misty
Title: I Love You, Honeybear
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Label: Sub Pop
Let me preface this by acknowledging the huge chasm in perspective that exists between me and the artist behind what will likely be regarded as one of the most evocative, well-crafted records of 2015 (if not of recent memory).
Sure, as an avid music fan, I’ve explored and loved plenty of albums thematically situated well beyond my point of view (many of them specifically for that reason), but there is something about the sly, sarcastic and removed manner with which Josh Tillman conducts his career as psychedelic folk innovator and genuine rock star Father John Misty that consistently reminds me of my naivety and even seems unconcerned with my opinion entirely.
Indeed, it takes a unique and seasoned individual to write a set of songs this unabashedly frank, clever, and honestly romantic, but even from my humble place on the soft side of 20, it’s clear to see that Tillman’s latest album is one of transcendent power and artistic merit, able to be appreciated but maybe not fully grasped across any age gap. I Love You, Honeybear is an embarrassment of musical and poetic riches that I’m sure will prove painfully relevant for years to come.
First of all, there are the arrangements. In a way that expands on but doesn’t depart from 2012’s standout Fear Fun, Honeybear boasts everything from lush string swells to noisy sonic experimentation to delicate acoustic plucking to electronic instrumentation. Oh yeah, and a mariachi band.
What Fear Fun brought in songcraft and wit is still intact, but Tillman and his band have subtly tapped into a larger well of sounds and textures on their second go round, and the results are killer.
Take “True Affection,” for example. The airy, synth heavy song sticks out like a sore thumb within the otherwise folk-rock driven track list, and yet makes total sense in its purpose to make a statement about our digital age and the foreignness we feel towards each other’s raw emotions. It’s also just a fantastic pop tune with a melody that soars freely above heavenly layers of sound.
Showcasing top-notch musicianship and stunning production, songs like the title track and “Strange Encounter” are so rich with velvety guitars and strings, they sound as if they’ve been dipped in chocolate.
Next, there is Tillman’s signature vocal style. He writes his own rulebook when it comes to vocal phrasing and often chooses to discard it altogether, sounding more like a raving madman than a professional singer. On “The Ideal Husband,” he purges himself of his many sins in three and a half minutes of explosive confession. On “Bored in the U.S.A.” Tillman embodies a quintessentially American brand of apathy with a deadpan tone that only sort of resembles a melody, and yet is breathtaking. “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” is a scathing criticism of a typically wide-eyed and self-righteous millennial masked behind a candy-coated ‘60s arrangement.
And this leads me to the elusive common thread that makes this album more than the sum of its sarcastic, catchy tunes. Without getting too wrapped up in lofty sentiment, it seems Tillman wrote this album at a fascinating creative crossroads, caught between the freshness and pastoral comfort of his relationship with his wife, Emma, and the looming thoughts of cultural and personal apocalypse left over from his days spent giving voice to the pocket of his ego that, with help from copious amounts of Ayahuasca, became the character, Father John Misty.
Ultimately, Tillman’s character acting is a large part of what’s entertaining about his music, and gives his tunes a depth that makes the one-note self deprecation or nostalgic pining of a million indie rock artists read like middle school poetry.
This knack he has for making music that punches you square in the face and then caresses you afterwards has made him one of the more polarizing and interesting stars of the indie sphere. He might offend you, but it’s obvious he doesn’t care. He might tear down the lived-in comfort of your tired worldview, but you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s a party record for the end of the world. Drink up, folks.