I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty (Album of the Week)

fjm-iloveyouhoneybear-2400Album: I Love You Honeybear

Artist: Father John Misty

About: 11 Songs; 45 minutes

Year: 2015

Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

The narrative in our head that accompanies our life is usually much harsher than what comes out of our mouth, or even, out of our pen. I would not want anyone tracking my thoughts. People who irritate you, situations that drive you crazy, not nice things you might want to do – you keep those bottled up because they wouldn’t necessarily show you to be a good or nice person. On his album, I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty doesn’t abide by those usual conventions.

I read that in his first go at putting together this album, his wife (aka Honeybear) told him that it wasn’t honest. As a good husband, he took her advice, and the final product seems pretty darn honest. If you listen to this as background music, you can get swept away by the beauty of it. There are layers of gorgeous sound throughout the album, and Josh Tillman’s voice is mellow and soothing. Think Fleet Foxes (of which he used to be a part of), Bon Iver, or any other bearded troubadour.

And then you come to the content, and it is raw and uncomfortable and you aren’t sure at all how to take it. Is it funny or sad or despairing or misogynistic or romantic? Yes. 

The opening track of the album is the title song. A song with Honeybear in the title is probably cute, right? The song is as lush musically as any 1970s Elton John ballad, but amidst the beauty is darkness. You get a taste of it with the first visual – “the Rorschach sheets where we make love” – and he gets more vivid than that. He moves on to describe love in the time of chaos. But, in the midst of crashing economies, dead in the street, and mental illness, his stated end game is to not give into despair because there is love. Not your standard love song, but he is obviously not your standard lover.

The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt. is a brutal takedown of a girlfriend who drives him crazy with her affectations and pseudo-intellectualisms. It is harsh and hilarious. He makes a point even with the use of quotation marks.

And we sang “Silent Night” in three parts which was fun

Until she said she sounds “just like” Sarah Vaughn

I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on

Why don’t you move to the Delta?

Before the album came out, Tillman performed Bored in the USA on The David Letterman Show. Just listening to this song on the album, it seems a performance piece with a brilliantly inserted laugh track that kills. On Letterman, he goes full boat with the performance. He opens playing a piano that turns out to be a player piano, he kneels on the piano praying to white Jesus, a string orchestra backs him gorgeously, and the laugh track taunts just as it does on the album.

Oh they gave me a useless education {laugh}

And a subprime loan {laugh}

On a craftsman home {laugh}

Keep my prescriptions filled {laugh}

And now I can’t get off {laugh}

But I can kind of deal {laugh)

Oh, with being bored in the USA {applause}

When he finishes and puts down the microphone, the audience remains quiet and then tentatively begins to applaud. They seem to be struck with the “what the hell was that?” phenomena.

Dan also has a little bit of the “what the hell” after listening to this album. He likes the sound and appreciates his antics, but wonders who this Misty/Tillman guy really is. I get the feeling that he feels a little taken for a ride on this one.

This album doesn’t want to give you a chance to ignore it. I appreciate that it plays with honesty in a way that stirs discomfort, but also some recognition. Like I said, I  don’t want anyone reading my mind at all times, but I am glad that Josh Tillman lets us into his for this one.

Next up:  Tangier Sessions, by Sir Richard Bishop