In his latest album, “Fear Fun” J. Tillman disappears behind the cloak of a freshly minted moniker: Father John Misty. Emerging from a stint as the drummer for Fleet Foxes and a series of solo records, Tillman seems at ease as this sagacious and slippery bard.
Tillman renames himself, using this new name as useful disguise to tell specific tales about living in our current time. Father John Misty is able to play the fool, to paint a portrait of an artist in our self-conscious and hyper-ironic world. Amidst sketches of Los Angeles and sidled up to folk sensibilities J. Tillman speaks sense through a veil of absurdity. Using lyrical smoke screens that draw from a tradition steeped in lore and the lowbrow vernacular of pop culture, Tillman guides the listener as narrator and companion. He conducts us through the carnival of album opener ‘Funtimes in Babylon’ and tells the tale of a trip down a rabbit hole in ‘This Is Sally Hatchet’.
The washed out, booming lament in ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ traces steps through burials, funerals and ghost stories. Followed by the insistent ‘Writing A Novel’ in which the journeyman character encounters everything from talking dogs to Heidegger & Sartre. Introspective leaning ‘Now I’m Learning To Love The War’ frets over how much oil is consumed in twenty-first century artistic pursuits. Not often a topic of conversation at the latest dinner party, but, still such a truly self-aware idea that once voiced, it seems absurd no one else has addressed it.
Merely five lines long, ‘O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me’ is a yarn of romantic yearning sprinkled with organ and buoyed amidst rolling harmonies. Writing a lovelorn chant in five lines is no easy feat but flows with finesse from the lips of Father John. ‘Nancy From Now On’ is the surprisingly violent, yet mild lullabye on the record. Lyrically it’s about fear yet, musically, it feels free and light – a Ferris wheel look at life as a prisoner, an addict, a wanderer. Initially, this track was my favorite on the album, but it was quickly replaced with ‘Only Son Of The Ladies Man’. Tillman takes a well-known stereotype and reveals a darker, bittersweet underbelly to the story. Deserted drums and colorful backing harmonies depict this saloon scene with an accuracy that is driven home in the mythological declaration “I swear that man was womankind’s first husband”. But this, along with all the other love songs, is about unfulfilled longing, a depth that hasn’t been braved, a myth that has died with its predecessor, or a comforter in a time of mourning who is as uncertain as death itself.
Ending the album with the deceptively simple ‘Every Man Needs A Companion’, don’t let the lonely strains of mandolin obscure the song that holds the key to unlocking Father John Misty’s creation. He sings “I never liked the name Joshua / I got tired of J” and thus we see, J. Tillman, tired of waiting, has created his own companion in Father John Misty. The resulting person and record is much to our benefit. Festooned with red herrings, the resolution of this tale is the revelation that in our isolating, fragmented society, finding companionship, art, and music, begins and ends with our ability to befriend and recreate ourselves.
Sub Pop is currently sold out of the record but you can buy it on Amazon. Or if you live in the UK (or don’t care about enormous shipping costs) you can buy it at the Bella Union store. Also, despite the enormous amount of oil it takes, you should still buy this album on vinyl because it sounds way fucking better.