Last November on “Letterman,” a bearded man in a pressed suit sat at a grand piano and proceeded to sing his new song “Bored in the USA.” Halfway through the performance, he stood up, but the piano kept playing. The orchestra behind him swelled as he sang lyrics declaring his meager middle class problems. Father John Misty then nodded in thanks to the lack-luster applause from the audience.
J. Tillman, aka Father John Misty, is a folk singer-songwriter known for his multi-instrumental abilities. Tillman, a solo artist since 2012, is the former drummer of indie rock bands Saxon Shore and Fleet Foxes. Giving his solo career a new wind, Tillman released “Far Fun” in 2012 under his new pseudonym. The album was enjoyable, but it didn’t demand respect. There were good songs with witty and clever writing, but the album didn’t leave a lasting impression.
Tillman’s sophomore effort, “I Love You, Honeybear,” contains similar elements. He still writes about odd subjects, includes a lot of dry humor in his lyrics and portrays his personality through his music. Tillman seems to be taking his craft much more seriously, using his honesty to his advantage.
In the song “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins),” Tillman describes his first night with the woman he would eventually marry, singing “You took off early to go cheat through film school. You left a note in your perfect script: ‘Stay as long as you want.’ I haven’t left your bed since.” I admit this doesn’t sound like a master poet at work, but it sounds a lot better in the song, I promise.
Tillman includes a lot of sexual imagery in his music, which is a bit ironic as he was raised in a strict Christian household with parents who didn’t allow him to listen to secular music. This album brings out some of the anger he has against his parents, twisting his passion into cynicism. Yet, his rage is sincere and open-hearted, and it can often feel painful as you listen to his bitterly sarcastic lyrics.
He sings so sweetly, like a traditional folk singer, and plays simple chords. You expect him to be closer to an old-fashioned way of life, but Tillman rejects this image and earnestly represents what he feels. Any fan of stand-up comedy will love this album; it can produce as many laughs as a one-hour Louis C.K. special. At the same time, a poetry fan will also love this record because of the way Tillman masterfully puts pen to paper.
The only slip-up I could find was the third track “True Affection.” Tillman’s sound changes from a more natural-sounding record to an electronic-heavy one. However, the fourth track, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment,” picks back up with Tillman’s previous style. Although “True Affection” isn’t horrible, it breaks up the flow of the album.
This record could accompany albums from the Beatles and Paul Simon on a drive through the mountains. But, just like the Beatles and Paul Simon, Tillman masterfully weaves his thoughts in such a way that almost anyone can relate to. Tillman’s sound is like that of The Velvet Underground. They both mastered a style of music that they created.