Notes Tagged ‘Father John Misty’

RIFF’d: Father John Misty’s ‘I Love You, Honeybear’

February 11th, 2015


Once Josh Tillman dubbed himself Father John Misty and took to strutting across the stage of Letterman as the “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man,” it was clear the man didn’t want to be separated from the showman. As the Fleet Foxes work history dropped off of bio descriptions and his zip code changed from the PNW to SoCal, tales of “Innocence by Misty” perfume surfaced, mushroom adventures with no destination. On the cruise version of Coachella in 2012, he dubbed his set “Father John Misty reads selections from his favorite works of literature,” and went viral with a descending-staircase karaoke rendition of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Tillman put the cart ahead of the horse so well, actually, that he just about became a parody of himself, letting the caricatures on his debut Fear Fun become more powerful than Josh Tillman. Father John Misty preaching psychedelic messages. Compounding the myth with lyrics that didn’t really achieve honesty. “I’m Writing a Novel” was hilarious and self-loathing and was rooted in the tale of how he found his new creative voice, but at the end of the day it was an effacing proclamation of being a writer when he hadn’t written any fiction yet. And “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man?” The dude builds a chorus around “I’m a leading brand of a one night stand.”

I Love You, Honeybear is different. Fear Fun was acerbic, and again, entertaining, but it did not arrive at truths about Josh Tillman. And maybe that was never his intention at all. And maybe that’s not even his intention on I Love You, Honeybear. But since falling in love and getting married, and framing a narrative arc around that, the eleven songs on here are about as close to the real Josh Tillman we’re ever going to see. And in the process of writing songs about that love, and brilliantly sending up all the social constructs in this shitshow of a society that are up against it, including erotic asphyxiating younger versions of Josh Tillman pleading for President Jesus to save him, it’s impossible to not learn something about yourself in tandem. Meanwhile, “Innocence by Misty” is out of production.

I Love You, Honeybear

Fun with bodily fluid bedsheet Rorschach metaphors as Tillman opens his triumphant second act as Father John Misty, making sure to set the stage to play homage to the one thing that’s allowed him to rise above this shit-show called society, that he so hilariously and acerbically sends up: Love: [LISTEN]

I Love You Honeybear

Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)

A wee segue from the sweet pop sendups that dominate elsewhere, Tillman dives completely into love here, cutting himself in bits for comic relief – celibacy, so “bourgeoisie” – but otherwise breaking out the mariachi vibes in full serenade mode to his wife, from virgin to LA matrimony fruition: [LISTEN]

Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

True Affection

Phone machines, the cause of and solution to all of our intimacy woes. If Tillman would have gone his normal acoustic troubadour verite the way of sonics here, it would be a throw-away, but with the synthetic drum and key cloth, sentiment and sarcasm explode with a refreshing color and strut: [LISTEN]

True Affection

The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment

Because we wouldn’t know how great the ‘honeybear’ is, that is record’s savior, without knowing all the soul-sucking ladies that led to Tillman’s true fit, here we see him show some teeth for a malaprop-spewing contradiction that “hoovers” all his drugs and begs to be choked. Dating is fun, kids: [LISTEN]

The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment

When You’re Smiling and Astride Me

Perfectly placed after the hedonistic third-person apartment visit that ends in contemptuous erotic asphyxiation, the choir girls ascend as our protagonist steps down from his high horse and lulls into the humble truism that he is merely an “aimless fake drifter,” and that’s alright, because love: [LISTEN]

When You're Smiling and Astride Me

Nothing Good Ever Happens at The Goddamn Thirsty Crow

Why Tillman wanted to include this Bukowsi fuck-it-all version of himself objectifying women at a Silver Lake bar may seem quizzical, but with its Southern cobblestone strut and dark-side revelations, it only makes him appear that much more human and, thus, deserving of the mighty ‘honeybear’: [LISTEN]

Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow

Strange Encounter

Echoing his “aimless fake drifter” self-reflections earlier Tillman dabbles with a kind of final stretch rising conflict that tears back into another page from his darkest hour dating days, questioning his decency among prayers veiled as ‘swears’, while the guitars get crunchy and the howls noir: [LISTEN]

Strange Encounter

The Ideal Husband

Last shake of Tillman’s completely inward skewerings of himself, cymbal and siren cacophony letting loose while every last bit of ‘awful’ the man could show is revealed, paired with a WikiLeaks neurosis of a metaphor in chase of forgiveness, redemption, it doesn’t matter. Up to love now: [LISTEN]

The Ideal Husband

Bored in the USA

Laugh-track add confounds, but the melody move from guitar to keys compliments the folk torch song send-up of the absurdities of young American citizenship perfectly. As truthful a statement of upper-middle class white existence pervading a gentrifying ‘hood near you that isn’t a Portlandia sketch: [LISTEN]

Bored in the USA

Holy Shit

Complimenting as a one-two falling action punch w/ the brilliant “Bored in the USA,” Tillman posits a series of confounding societal contradictions, pitting endless barometers of intelligence and happiness against the forever existential question of what the hell it all means for love and mankind: [LISTEN]

Holy Shit

I Went to the Store One Day

As best a dénouement ‘honeybear’ could have, Tillman, for the first time in the album reducing his sentiments to his simplest of singer-songwriter roots, spinning gold around the mundane act of going to the deli to get smokes, and the poetics of it turning into the most important moment of his life: [LISTEN]

I Went to the Store One Day

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Newport Folk Festival 2013: Is Folk Dead?

September 12th, 2013

Father John Misty; Photo: Gavin Paul

As reported on Saturday, the second day of this year’s edition of the iconic Newport Folk Festival, former Fleet Fox-er, J. Tillman, backed by his new crew Father John Misty, was the first among 50 plus artists throughout the weekend to open up a discourse on what the hell “folk” means these days, both to the legacy of the festival and to the state of culture and music in general, chastising the “fedoras” and “Prius” set for not adhering to the “God damn responsibility to say something with [their] damn songs,” pausing in the last verse of his gospel-stomp, biblical-laced “Fun Times in Babylon” to basically hammer home the point that he’s on a mission to go into the belly of the beast, guns a-blazing, joys a-raping before the whole show goes to shit: [LISTEN]

"Fun Times in Babylon"

While at the start of the song, he changed its opening lyric from “fun times in Babylon/that’s what I’m counting on,” to “It’s what folk music is based on.”

He said a lot of brash things. Sometimes perplexing. Sometimes perfect. Sometimes contradictory. Sometimes self-deprecating. Consistently hilarious:

  • On apologies: “It’s been a little preachy, and antagonistic. But I promise it’s all just smooches and cinnamon buns from here on out.”
  • On anger: “People used to get praised by the government for their folk songs.”
  • On the state of music: “Human nationalistic imperialism.”
  • On the rest of his set: “Let the satanic Norwegian death metal commence!”
  • On his own music: “But I’m not a folk artist. I just got invited here because I’m white, I have a beard and there’s some acoustic guitar on my album.”
  • On crowd demographics: “So is this a camping thing? Or do you all just go back to your yachts and call it a night?”

Tillman said it himself – he’s not the arbiter of folk. Nor are the festival organizers anymore, really. When asked by NPR what we could expect from Sunday kitchen-sink genre headliner Beck, producer Jay Sweet unabashedly responded he had no idea, “I just buy the groceries. The artist’s make the meal. I just sit back and hope that it tastes good.”

And if Tillman was aiming at anyone in particular for selling out, it was most definitely The Lumineers, who played Sunday as well – clad in fedoras, no Prius’ in sight, though – and not Sweet or the legacy of the festival. Although the NFF did go for-profit for a number of years before returning to its 501©(3) roots in 2011. It’s clear the festival is simply providing a stage for whatever pulse is left in folk to beat. That objective responsibility goes back to the booing of Dylan going electric in 1965.

As one of the poster children of relevant indie-rock, though, Tillman stood on holy ground where Joan Baez made her debut, where Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie verses are above the law and stay protected by the fortress that is Fort Adams, and more or less asked if folk is dead, let alone still capable of beating a pulse, backing the premonition with a closing new tune called “Bored in the USA,” winking, “I think it’s about something,” before howling the ultimate BOSS-ian fist for the millennial, full of an acerbic dark wit, asking “President Jesus” to save him: [LISTEN]


Of course in a festival setting in 2013, it’s kind of hard to keep that conversation going. But the beauty of the NFF, is that it’s capped at 10,000 people/day, there are only four stages, and community is king. Even surrounded by yachts and sailboats and the mansions of Newport, people with real deal attention spans do make the majority, and do pay most of it to what an artist has to say. And as society and technology blur the conventions of whatever folk means to people, and how it can be delivered, the ways of searching for that pulse and conversation were myriad.

On Friday, as the rain pummeled the Narragansett Bay, weepy string cathartic narratives dominated the afternoon, from The Mountain Goats‘ tales of “divorced couples” and “battle royals” to Phosphorescent‘s “love me foolishly” sing-alongs, Amanda Palmer‘s twisted carnival gender-role reversal chanties, John McCauley‘s reinvention of broken-hearted Duke Ellington standard “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” wailing a pining punk-country sentiment that never gets old: [LISTEN]

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

While Old Crow Medicine Show put faux-hick drawl on every piece of banter they could during their headlining, bluegrass-burning set until people couldn’t take it anymore – “We got banjoes and fiddles just like they did 40 years ago. We got songs just like they did 140 years ago.” – but recovered with a decent cover of Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” just as the sun popped out and turned the sky the most purple shade of aura East of any mountain majesty: [LISTEN]

Woody rightfully showed up again, most notably in Ramblin‘ Jack Elliott‘s weekend defining set – aside from Tillman’s eternal question – the 81-years-young NFF veteran tumbling forth an anthology of stories and wanderlust anecdotes from sailing to one of the most bitter-sweet tales of a dog he taught to drive a car, lacing in the infamous fascist screed “Talking Sailor,” to tie in a metaphor about his penchant for sailing backwards through life: [LISTEN]

"Talkin' Sailor"

The only other performance that came close to Elliott’s was Beck’s, in which Elliott reprised his stage presence on the heels of a sentiment from Beck that a teenage version of the veritable “Loser” used to go see Elliott back in the day, while Elliott came out, and knelt down for some odd reason – hopefully this was a knee or back issue and not some honor gesture – to look up to Beck and duet a cover of Jimmie Rodgers‘ “Waiting for a Train,” while Andrew Bird and members of Black Prairie supported on strings, as they all rallied around the down-and-out tale: [LISTEN]

"Waiting on a Train" lyrics

If we really are to define folk by Tillman’s suggestion that an artist simply must have something to say, though, there wasn’t a false act at all, really. Even funk powerhouse Trombone Shorty, as light as his outfit is on lyrics, wore a sense of what it means to be an American on their sleeves with a riff hurricane rendition of The Guess Who‘s “American Woman,” Troy Andrews freewheeling its anti-war, anti-poverty fists with brass instead of verse.

Likewise, Jim James spiritual new solo record, Regions of Light and Sound of God, played in full as James has been doing all year, touched upon what it means to be a young American with a relationship with the higher-ups, The Lone Bellow swelled a trinity of harmonies over a cover of John Prine‘s ”Angel From Montgomery” that threw the blue collar pursuit into its oppressive spotlight once more, Frank Turner led the UK pursuit with a cockney punk country converse that “there is no God,” Justin Townes Earl honored Hank Williams decision to put the 12-bar blues into country with a lament on the evils roughing it as an artist in modern day Brooklyn and The Avett Brothers made sure to split their weepy-string meditations on “I and Love and You” with a “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” reminding everyone of their existential freedoms: [LISTEN]

And possibly the most shocking moment came when The Lumineers took to a cover of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which they’ve done several times before, but to hear lead singer Wesley Shultz tell the tale of obsessing over it as a kid in this setting, with the echoes of Tillman’s “Prius” and “fedoras” shots still ringing from earlier that afternoon, validated the simple lovelorn mega-banjo anthem “Ho Hey” that followed it. Not that “Ho Hey” will become part of the American songbook, nor will it ever eschew the laws that bind us, or ever, ever come close to the genius that is “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but for some twenty-something looking for the upside in heartache, there’s a revealing of the web that binds all genres in the vision of Shultz learning to express himself from the get go with Dylan.

Or it could be just a bit of crafty image molding to sell more Prius and fedoras. It’s your job to cut through the fat.

But there was a moment back in the closing moments of Beck’s set that equally put the future of folk into perspective, after a couple tunes from his “Song Reader” project and wound around an improvisational rap about a fictional yacht off in the distance with “16 Greek columns on it,” “900 flatscreen TVs” and the proverbial “banjo” in the middle of it all waiting to take him away in which he foretold a reminder of what kind of pedestal the NFF of the 50s is placed upon today, and how society might do the same to the 2010s version in the 2050s, proceeding to turn his digital drum machine’s beat to “11″ and narrating a tale of “Where it’s At:” [LISTEN]

"Where It's At"

Is folk dead? Not if you know how to listen to the reinvention of it.

Photo: Gavin Paul

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