Compact Review: Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear

i-love-you-honeybear

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Rating: 90/100
Released: February 10, 2015

I am well on my way to learning every word of this album. The first time I heard it, I knew it was only a matter of time. Hopefully you’ve had this experience too. The music says plenty of things you’ve thought to yourself and even more that you wish you had been clever enough or courageous enough to think of first. Like meeting someone destined to be a close friend, I knew that I Love You Honeybear and I were meant to spend a lot of quality time together. From top to bottom, this album is warm and honest and genuinely funny and who doesn’t love that? I Love You Honeybear has a lot to say about a lot of things but it’s a good storyteller, the tunes are killer and I’ve got time.

On the album’s lead single “Chateau #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”, Father John Misty aka Josh Tillman sings:

“People are boring, but you’re something else completely”

As the former drummer for Fleet Foxes, Tillman is no stranger to the kind of soul stirring folk music that seems sweep the alternative music crowd every other year or so. Not to say that the Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes and Bon Ivers of the world are undeserving of their acclaim, but I’ve been through the cycle enough times to temper my expectation anytime someone rides an acoustic guitar into the eye of the hype-hurricane. Luckily, I Love You Honeybear is something else completely.

The writing on this album is candid and strikingly contemporary. While the instrumentation largely relies on a collage outmoded styles, much of the lyrical content wrestles uniquely modern concepts with a narrative voice that could only exist in 2015. On “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment”, he sings lines like

“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes”

and references “every insufferable convo” in a way that simultaneously embodies and derides the idiotic way all of us young folk communicate. I Love You Honeybear is full of subtle digs like these but Tillman never places himself too far from the punchline. People are dumb and they do dumb stuff but he isn’t exempt from guilt or foolishness. The indictment of modern youth culture is as much an attack on himself as it is on the group at large. His desire and angst are real, his concerns are legitimately concerning and his first wold problems are still problematic.

I Love You Honeybear  is an intricate exercise in contrast and humor. Take the albums biggest, most raucous track “The Ideal Husband”. Tillman launches into a guilt fueled confessional about the little petty vanities, lies and mistakes that pepper his past. Its the albums loudest, most upbeat track and should be a crowd pleaser on the festival circuit this summer but man it is dark. After listing his sins, he finishes the song exhausted by guilt and desperation singing:

“I came by at seven in the morning
I said, “Baby, I’m finally succumbing”
Said something dumb like “I’m tired of running”
Let’s put a baby in the oven
Wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?”

Given the context of what comes before this scene, this is one hell of a dark punchline. “The Ideal Husband” is followed by the satirical album centerpiece “Bored in the USA”. If “The Ideal Husband” is a warped attack on himself, “Bored” is an equally critical evaluation of modern middle class American struggle. On this beautiful piano driven ballad, he interjects laugh tracks in between lines about prescription drugs, a “useless education” and “sub-prime loans”. In a striking moment of contrast, it comes across somehow as earnest as it is sarcastic and it sticks with you.

Father John Misty is a character based as much on Tillman’s own experience as it is formed from our collective zeitgeist. This is what the beleaguered youth are supposed to sound like. This is what indie folk hipsters are supposed sound like. The expectations of of Josh Tillman are grand and he approaches I Love You Honeybear with a confounding mix of casual confidence, crippling self doubt and a fierce desire to share his own stories, experienced, imagined and everything in between. It works because of its candor and whimsy but the real appeal comes from the nuanced critiques that drive the narratives. Music like this can sometimes be a hassle to deconstruct and it’s not always worth the effort but I Love You Honeybear is worth every second.

Top Tracks: “Chateau #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”, “The Ideal Husband”, “Bored in the USA”

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