Sunday, February 22, 2015

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

There’s a lot going on in Father John Misty’s latest album, “I Love You, Honeybear”, and it may be the most aloof piece of collection of pretty-sounding smart-assery I’ve ever heard.  The whole thing flirts with profundity but won’t walk down the aisle. 

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin embraces this album.  She says that it reports on the nasty commentary that goes on in one's head, which makes me a bit nervous.  I think it's just her love of bearded troubadours, though.

The music is great – and that’s the main thing.  He’s a drummer, so you get the rhythm you’d expect, but you also get swirling orchestral sounds, synthesizers, background vocals – he brings the full musical palette to bear on this project.  There’s not a dislikeable song on this album, and yet they vary widely in style and approach. 

Most of this album is about romance – sort of.  The key word there is “about”.  It’s not really romantic – there’s a self-conscious distance between the topic and the artist.  Each of the songs (except one – the clever-but out-of-place “Bored in The USA”, which is a Generation Whatever complaint) is a different take on romance. 

Each song has a too-cool-for-school twist that let’s you know the artist is just playing with you.  The title and opening track has “Fuck the world, damn straight malaise.”  “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” has “I haven’t hated/All the same things as somebody else/Since I remember”.  “True Affection” has its title, and this couplet that sums up the whole album, in my view – “When can we talk with a face?/Instead of using all these strange devices”.  Each of the songs is sung through a mask, and never do you get the sense that the artist is being entirely genuine.

Which isn’t to say he isn’t being honest.  The hardest song to listen to is “The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.”.  Josh Tillman is Father John Misty’s real name, and the music is pretty but the words are ugly.  “She says, ‘Like, literally music is in the air [she] breathe[s]’/And the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream”.  The whole thing devolves into creepy potential domestic violence in the closing line, “I obliged later on when you begged me to choke y’”. 

I suppose it takes a healthy swig of honesty to write about the annoyance you feel toward your loved one, and to blame her for “hovering all my drugs”, but the rest of the album is making clear that he really loves her, so this one comes off as a nasty account of the flaws that irk the heck out of the artist.  It’s an aspect of a relationship, I suppose, but it’s not how he really feels.  It’s a way of talking about someone, but it’s not really genuine.

All that said, this album is a collection of really interesting, sonically interesting songs.  As I said above, there’s not a dislikeable song on this album.  Each song is clever and sounds great.  That’s an achievement.  Taken as an album, though, it leaves me wondering who the heck Josh Tillman/Father John Misty is, or who he wants to be. 

Next up:  Tangier Sessions, by Sir Richard Bishop

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