Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear

Photo: Emma Tillman

Josh Tillman leaves the depression that triggered his beloved debut behind. In its place is the subject of love in all its beauty and messiness.

Father John Misty

I Love You, Honeybear

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2015-02-10
UK Release Date: 2015-02-09

There are some albums that you’re told you need to love, and there are albums that you fall in love with without any critical nudging.

Two years ago, I traveled with two reporters and a photographer to Austin to cover South by Southwest. For the 11-hour drive, we easily had more than 2,000 albums at our disposal with our array of laptops, iPhones, and iPods. For several hours, we listened to albums that we should listen to (bands we were covering at SXSW). But during downtimes, personal favorites were the soundtrack of the long drive. And for that entire trip, I think we listened to Father John Misty’s Fear Fun album at least three times.

When it initially dropped, Fear Fun was met with a polite reception from critics. Most reviews fell into the knee-jerk “this is a solo record from former member of "fill in higher profile band name” category. Slowly though, Fear Fun began to amass a cultish adoration thanks to Josh Tillman’s ability to create some instantly catchy hooks (see the funeral dredge of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”) and hard-to-forget lyrics (“O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me”). Three years of positive word of mouth has paid off for Tillman. Months before his follow-up I Love You, Honeybear was released, he unveiled one song on a high-profile performance on David Letterman. And with the exception of Sleater-Kinney’s follow-up, I Love You, Honeybear is a clear frontrunner for the title of “first most anticipated album of 2015". 

The recording environment behind I Love You, Honeybear couldn't have been more different than its predecessor, at least according to their respective Sub Pop profiles. Fear Fun was recorded during a period of "immobilizing period of depression". Contrast that with Honeybear, which, according to its bio, is "a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman" and his relationship with Emma (Tillman married filmmaker/photographer Emma Elizabeth Garr).

Tillman may have found love in real life, but there is still plenty of his resigned heartache permeating through I Love You, Honeybear. "I just love the kind of woman who can walk all over a man / I mean like a goddamn marching band," Tillman sings in "The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment". That song is one of the most immediately catchy things on the album, which only makes the closing line "I obliged later on when you begged me to choke yah" that much more jarring. And on the horn-drenched "Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)", Tillman declares his intention "to take you in the kitchen" and "lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in".

Honeybear has many of the hallmarks of an ambitious follow-up. On the aforementioned "Chateau Lobby 4", a mariachi horn section swells with the chorus. The title track features a lush layering of vocals, accented by hammering percussion. Credit Tillman on Honeybear, while some artists tend to play it safe for a highly-anticipated follow-up, Tillman seems to be determined to use every bit of financial and commercial freedom he's earned over the past three years to create his own grand statement.

Sadly, there are some times on I Love You, Honeybear where less attention to ambition and more focus on hooks could have helped immeasurably. After an amazingly solid first half, the second half of Honeybear suffers some lag, either because of some tracks have a lack of a memorable hook or chorus ("Strange Encounter"), or experiments that just don't pan out (see the laugh track on "Bored in the U.S.A."). On his Sub Pop page, Tillman said he "sang his ass off" on this album. And after five or six listens, you have no doubt he's telling the truth. But at times, you may find yourself wishing he would do less singing and more surrendering to his more spontaneous, reckless side.

I Love You, Honeybear is a big, ambitious statement that few artists can pull off for a sophomore follow-up to a beloved debut. But unlike Fear Fun, it does ask the listener to meet the artist at least halfway. Like its overall theme of love, Honeybear can be as intoxicating as it is messy. But given the rewards, it's totally worth the plunge.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.