Review of I Love You, Honeybear — Father John Misty
Josh Tillman, the man behind the persona of Father John Misty, displays himself on this record as an intensely earnest lover, swept up by his recent marriage in 2013. However, his aforementioned alter-ego is a sardonic funny-man who attacks music and its industry from a satirical perspective. After creating multiple dour albums in the ’00s released under the name J. Tillman and constructing two epitaphs that follow him on every publication — “He was Fleet Foxes drummer for awhile” and “had a spiritual awakening from mushrooms while on a roadtrip” — Father John Misty burst onto the scene with his 2012 album Fear Fun, a psych-folk experience of self-aware wit and Laurel Canyon sounds. And if Misty governed that album with his provocative yet leanly acerbic musings, the sophomore effort tilts control just enough for Tillman get a foot in the door and insist on bombastic love songs that are not completely warped by cynicism. Infused with a typical subject of love, I Love You, Honeybear thrives on the split personality confrontations of scorn vs. earnest that deconstruct romance in an atypical manner.
Throughout the album, Tillman, a folk singer at heart, explores love’s complications and happy qualities, but often handles each narration with a satiric twinge, unable to fully step out of the glow of an ironic performer. Beginning as a ’60s pop ballad in which Englebert Humperdinck would have thrived, “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” turns from a sweet one-night stand to a criticism of a girl’s faults, especially her use of “literally,” to which Tillman responds later: “Well, it’s ‘literally’ not that.”
In the sweetly composed “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” complete with ambitious mariachi horns, Tillman describes a honeymoon as a romantic daydream in which he and his wife, Emma, are placed in surprisingly intimate sequences. But suddenly, his sardonic chops react once again. “Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in,” he sings, his smirk unresisting to the emotional interplay of post-wedding sex. And while these two songs cause conflicting emotions, without question I would rather feel conflicted than expectant of a certain style or image; it is his enigmatic drifting between enchanting and tongue-in-cheek that makes this record.
Jokes punctuate songs throughout the album, but none are as funny and maddeningly depressive as those found in the second half of the song “Bored In The USA.” Midway through this piano ballad (which describes middle-class social and economic woes and was spotlighted on Letterman in November), a laugh track appears when Tillman sings, “They gave me a useless education / And a sub-prime loan on a craftsman home.” The laugh track crafts a deeply disturbing relationship with a listener, and, forced by years of sitcom watching, one instinctively desires to laugh along as well.
But Tillman’s humor is no match for the sincere pleasures he derives from love. In “I Went To the Store One Day,” Tillman recounts how he and his significant other met and arrives at some sort of truth devoid of anything beyond primal, natural bliss: “For love to find us of all people / I never thought it’d be so simple.” And while Tillman cannot resist a cheeky Misty-esque comment (“A sentiment re: Our Golden Years”) right before the last few lines, I’d like to think sentiment won out in the end.
Originally published at wkco.org on February 11, 2015.