Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

7

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
9
TV

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
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image