Album Review: I Love You Honeybear – Father John Misty

father john misty

[LISTEN] [Label: Sub Pop] [Date Released: February 10, 2015] [Genre: Indie Rock / Psychedelic Folk]

In recent years, the most striking image of the newly infamous Joshua Tillman has been his brazen gallop down a road deep in Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon, pants around his strained calves and ankles as he yelped with the desperate plea, “Please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!” Psychoactivity aside, J. Tillman, now soundly operating under the guise of a halfway cult leader, halfway philosopher, Father John Misty, quit drumming for Fleet Foxes in 2010 and told us he was writing a novel in 2012. But Tillman’s trip down Laurel Canyon and up an oak tree bequeathed a number of transformations: a spiritual reincarnation, a marriage in 2013, and finally a pop-up book—not a novel—signed with the loving note, “I love you, Honeybear.” Father John Misty’s steadfast sophomore effort is the product of a man converted by love yet subverted by modernity, a consistent and unrelentingly beautiful sermon on life and love as far has Tillman has come to know them.

It’s hardly unexpected for Misty to begin with what seems to be the end. Modest guitars and tinkering piano keys lead us into a grand symphonic whirlwind, and Tillman makes no hesitation and dives right into the poetics of the sensual. He coos over bed sheets profaned by mascara, blood, and ash rubbed in to form Rorschach patterns. The world seems to be tumbling down in flames; the future is lurching forward far too quickly as the world market crashes but in brave pitch Tillman proclaims, “Everything is doomed / And nothing will be spared / But I love you, honeybear.” Part of the Father John Misty mythos since 2012, the opening title track bleeds into “Chateau Lobby #4” where Tillman calls his honeybear by her real name Emma instead, and replaces talk of having her over the altar with visions of lifting up her mystifying wedding dress. Here the instrumentation lulls to a soothing domestic pace and swells upward on occasion, riding on the back of waves of horns. Both tracks placate Misty’s overtly sexual and impassioned swings through a sieve, rendering only the most poetic and affected cut—a process of refinement Emma herself curated. But thankfully this sifting has left Tillman’s quixotic humor largely intact. “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” is riotous, stationing its speaker within the domain of the center of the cosmos but on the outside of his own patience. Tillman explains how she can’t help but spew malapropisms that make him want to “fucking scream”—literally—all the while cruising over low-riding guitar strums and gentle tambourine slicks.

Soulful affectation and erotic asphyxiation aside, Tillman’s insolence and cynicism comes to a full breadth of color and sweetness in his stalwart battle against time. “The Ideal Husband” is the most rattling musical reference to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks since Death Grips name-dropped the all-knowing technological cloud on “Hacker” in 2012. Speaking of rattling, the drums on the cut suddenly soar while the guitars wail like the sirens of a nightmare, a widespread panic let loose from some stolen files until the song collapses with a belabored moan. This frenzy is followed by lead single “Bored in the USA” which is especially sparse, kept afloat merely by Tillman’s somber singing, soft piano keys, and the haunting laugh track injected on the back end. An incredulous blend of triumph and trump between Bruce Springsteen and the Clash, respectively, we see Tillman linger through his own vision of the end: apathy, ennui, “Can I get my money back?” This all culminates with the bittersweet bliss of “Holy Shit” where the twinkling piano and shuffling guitar return to roll kindly along as Tillman gushes with lists and lists of the dirty refuse and complex debris of modern living—enough to make you repeat the exclamation of the title. But as the changed Tillman insists, atom bombs and black holes are always diminutive to love—“you and me”—always clutching to frailty and scarcity under a constantly rising swell of choral harmonies.

To tell it truthfully I Love You, Honeybear started as a project set to deconstruct the love song, but through some divine catharsis, these cuts are some of the most honest to ever effuse from Tillman’s being. “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” is one of the most lyrically economic songs on the release, but drives forward with a powerful, soulful stride living free, “truly see and be seen.” And this emotional transparence is vital on more cinematic numbers like “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” or “Strange Encounter.” On the former, the guitars wane and pull at the sinews of the most lonesome souls. The bar slowly rises from soft winds that capture the essence of tumbleweeds and empty flasks until the bitterness blooms with power chords to top it all off. The latter is even more dramatic as Tillman stretches his vocal register, peaking with drums matching heartbeats at “The moment you came to, I swore I would change / Though neither one of us would leave unscathed.” If anything I Love You, Honeybear documents this change—this metamorphosis linked to Tillman’s own recursive sense of self-awareness—and celebrates it with a brazen disposition. Ipso facto, “I Went to the Store One Day” ends the album at the beginning. The strings quiver with anticipation, and the guitar rolls low to the ground: “Seen you around, what’s your name?” And hence, the psychoactive cynic met Emma, honeybear, and from then on love had never been graced a more shrewd and masterful ambassador.

[Favorite Tracks: I Love You, Honeybear; Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow; Strange Encounter; I Went to the Store One Day]

by Dynn Javier