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Album Review: Father John Misty – “I Love You, Honeybear”

on February 3, 2015

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Psilocybin Lothario Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, was born during a mushroom-enhanced, truth-seeking journey to Joshua Tree National Park by Tillman and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Emma. While hanging out in a tree, seeing what one sees when on mushrooms in Joshua Tree, Tillman had two breakthroughs: 1) his very serious and morose (and quite good) solo work as J. Tillman was, for the most part, not a truly honest representation of who he was, and 2) he was helplessly and madly in love with Emma. Everything Father John Misty has done since has been born of that realization. If 2012’s excellent breakthrough Fear Fun was the debauched sound of psychedelic ego death via wildly original folk music, then I Love You, Honeybear is the ambitious sound of a man who is scared shitless of anyone truly knowing him (including himself) finally succumbing to love and intimacy. And it’s a fantastic one.

In his press release for the record, Tillman said he “used 100 ideas in a song where normally four would do.” That sense of excess abounds throughout Honeybear, but without the record ever feeling overwrought with ideas. Aside from Tillman’s lyrics and incredible vocal turn, the nuances that pepper the album are its greatest strength. From the piano and organ flourishes that perfectly complement the mischievously dark lyrics of “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment,” to the drum machine and mariachi players on “True Affection,” to the rip-roaring guitar and piano outro on “Ideal Husband,” Jonathan Wilson and Tillman’s deft production positively shine throughout.

Honeybear is also filled top to bottom with fantastic string arrangements from Tillman, Wilson, and violinist Paul Cartwright, who played on the majority of the tracks and will be joining the touring band. Lyrically, the record is another astounding step forward for Tillman/Misty, as he confronts every single fault and fear with a raw clarity, humor, and honesty rarely found in music—or art in general. For all its cleverness, Tillman’s wordplay is so brazenly forthright that it’s hard not to be taken aback by some of his confessions, and conversely impossible not to be enthralled by them.

Rare is the artist who so blatantly throws himself upon the altar of public revelation, laying his sins and fears out for all to see, and rarer still is the artist who can do so in such a captivating fashion. Tillman has not only achieved such a feat; he has made a truly original and beautiful piece of art examining the most fearful and wondrous resource humanity has: love. “Maybe love is just an economy, based on resource scarcity / But what I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me?” »

Donovan Farley



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