‘Honeybear’ an irony-soaked Americana sampler

Father John Misty scores one of the strongest releases of 2015

Father John Misty's 'I Love You, Honeybear' is an innovative exploration of relationships good and bad, accompanied by a diverse collection of American music styles.

Fair use image from Sub-Pop Records

Father John Misty's 'I Love You, Honeybear' is an innovative exploration of relationships good and bad, accompanied by a diverse collection of American music styles.

Conor Battles, Editor-in-Chief, Arts & Entertainments Editor

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A wave of psychedelic, spaced-out acoustic guitar gives way to a soaring, almost country-western-esque symphony of slide guitar, strings and piano. An affably cynical, endearingly bitter persona finds love. A former Fleet Foxes drummer becomes one of the indie scene’s brightest stars. Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear is an album that manages to take these elements and craft them into something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Father John Misty is as much an alter ego of J. Tillman as it is a solo project. Lyrically, he explores just about every kind of relationship in the 21st century, from one night stands with insufferably pretentious girls (“The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.) to his blissful marriage to filmmaker Emma Tillman (“I Went to the Store One Day”). His snarky, sardonic wit recalls Elvis Costello at his most blithely passive-aggressive, and it permeates the songs in a way that perfectly complements the instrumentation.

 

Tillman builds on the bluesy indie rock trappings of his debut as Father John, 2012’s Fear Fun, incorporating country, jazz and folk to make what is essentially a hipster’s revisionist history of American popular music. He even ventures into electronica on “True Affection,” a bitter look at the flaws of finding love through electronic means like text messages and email. The juxtaposition of the lyrics and the mellow electronics surrounding them speaks volumes about the complex mind behind them.

The album is as full of twists and turns as the love life that inspired it. From the loud, rollicking punk of “The Ideal Husband” to the sorrowful soul-rock of “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” Tillman proves himself one of the most versatile, adept performers in recent memory. He even finds time to croon, making a turn as mournful balladeer on “Bored in the U.S.A.””Is this the part where I get all I ever wanted?” he asks, only half sarcastically.  The persona of Father John Misty resonates with a dark side in all of us; jaded by love gone sour, by an American Dream that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, by the prospect of adulthood being just another phase of restless responsibility. He channels that worry into a kind of hope that beneath the cynical facade is a love story that just hasn’t happened yet.

The penultimate track, an earnest,introspective folk track called “Holy S**t,” sums up the hopes, the fears, the highs and catastrophic lows of love. Written the night before his wedding, it explores everything from holy wars to classic television, and draws thought-provoking comparisons between matrimony and some of mankind’s greatest undertakings. It’s a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for the post-irony crowd; a 21st-century update on apocalyptic stream-of-consciousness folk that forces us to reevaluate the value we put on relationships and those we love.

By the close of the album; a surprisingly heartfelt, tender look at the history – past, present, and future – of Tillman’s relationship with his wife; the listener can’t help but feel like they’ve gone on a journey much the same as him. Love and loss, weird dreams and mysterious stains, we’ve all been “there,” wherever that may be. I Love You, Honeybear is one of the most honest, relatable albums to come out in this year, or the past several years.


9/10

 

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