Father John Misty’s debut album Fear Fun was a delightful surprise–few expected that a solo album from the former drummer of Fleet Foxes would be such a musical revelation. The best case scenario was that Fear Fun would be a pleasant diversion, but Joshua Tillman’s adopted persona of a modern-day hipster-shaman created folk rock tunes that have held up remarkably well over the years. Fast-forward three years, and while we are still waiting to hear anything new from Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty has returned with a stellar new album that will force people to stop name-dropping his former outfit.
I Love You, Honeybear is a stunningly gorgeous album, one that expands the scope of its predecessor with lush strings and intricate arrangements, but also one that delights in intimate personal details. Father John Misty has always had a deft touch with his lyrics, often evoking a wry smile or two, but lines like “She says, ‘Like, literally music is the air [she] breathe[s],’ and the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream…I wonder if she even knows what that word means; well it’s ‘literally’ not that” from “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” elicit an actual laugh every time its played. Tillman’s recent marriage is a defining influence on the album, but Tillman is careful to balance any sweetness with just the right amount of cynicism; a great example comes from the closing lines of “Holy Shit”: “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity–but what I fail to see is what that’s got to do with you and me.”
At times, it seems that the music could veer dangerously close to the emptiness of late 70’s AM Radio/yacht-rock (or perhaps worse, playing up the conventions of the genre with too much irony), but Father John Misty employs a nimble hand throughout the album, and simply writes melodies that are too good to be associated with such vapidness. Honeybear‘s laid-back ballads are enhanced by extravagant string arrangements that add both depth and ornamentation, and songs like the relaxed swing of “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” and the achingly beautiful “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” are enhanced by the expert addition of wind and horn melodies. It is difficult to select any standout songs from this consistently great album, but the euphoric triumph of “Chateau Lobby #4” is one that will be easily remembered.
The album is mainly made up of mid-tempo numbers, but the good news is that I Love You, Honeybear never really drags. The one real rocker (and a soon-to-be favorite of the live set), “The Ideal Husband”, appears two-thirds of the way through and gives the musicians a chance to really thrash about on a fun blues stomp, but otherwise things are generally calm. A trio of ballads follows, beginning with the sarcastic ode “Bored in the USA” that perfectly sums up the sentiment of a generation coping with the readjusted education/benefits equation, and ending with the sweet lullaby “I Went to the Store One Day” which recounts the circumstances that led to the romance that inspired the album. If only all great outcomes could result from a simple line like “I’ve seen you around–what’s your name?”
Note: The CD version of the album comes with a booklet entitled Exercises for Listening. I highly recommend that you read these directions; obey them at your peril.