Review: Father John Misty Crafts a Contemporary Masterpiece on ‘I Love You, Honeybear’


Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear © Subpop Father John Misty • I Love You, Honeybear • Subpop • US Release Date: February 10, 2015

Lush, bold, and brutally honest, Father John Misty’s sophomore album I Love You, Honeybear is nothing short of a contemporary masterpiece. Unlike anything else released in 2015, listening to I Love You, Honeybear, it sounds as if Father John Misty – aka Josh Tillman – ‘put his foot’ into this project, paying close attention to each and every detail.

Every harmonic progression, every orchestration, every musical push feels as if Tillman sought nothing short of perfection. I Love You, Honeybear ends up being something truly to behold and unlike anything else offered up so far in 2015.

“I Love You, Honeybear” opens the effort up with lush instrumentation and a clever harmonic progression as Father John Misty (Josh Tillman) details his love with wife Emma as everlasting and uncompromising. Tillman’s brutal honesty first rears its head here, establishing the tenor of I Love You, Honeybear as a whole. “Honeybear, Honeybear, Honeybear,” he sings, “F*ck the world, damn straight malaise / it may be just us who feel this way.”

Later, Tillman goes even more edgy as he ‘blasphemously’ sings “You’re bent over the altar and the neighbors are complaining / that the misanthropes next door are probably conceiving a Damien / Don’t they see the darkness rising? Good luck fingering oblivion.” Essentially, people are certain they are deadly, devilish match, but Father John could care less. He doesn’t consider him or his love demonic, but rather speaks from the perspective that others might view the union and potential offspring. After all, he loves his “honeybear.”

On “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins),” Tillman continues to show his incredible aptitude for clever lyricism. The track seemingly seems to be all about making love to his new wife for the first time, but examine the lyrics closely and there are all sorts of sub-plots and narratives worthy of examination. Ultimately, this is about him and his wife, but Tillman being the poet that he is crafts a truly intricate portrait that is nothing short of a breathtaking listen.

“True Affection” opens with dizzying production work – a stark contrast to the opening songs. Electronically based as opposed to being organic and natural, the feel that Tillman is going for here is one of being inauthentic and impersonal. The lyrics suggest establishing a relationship merely through technology without having the personal contact necessarily to really build a genuine connection. The production, hence, serves as a tone poem of sorts, supporting the absurdity of the lack of a truly personal, authentic relationship.

“I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man / and I mean like a goddamn marching band…and the malaprops make me wanna f*cking scream.” Geez, Louise! On “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt,” Tillman delivers nothing short of a hilarious tale of what has to be a failed romantic encounter, apparent by the sarcasm of the aforementioned, opening lyrics. Read further into Tillman’s tale when he sings, “She blames her excess on my influence / but gladly hoovers all my drugs / I found her naked with her best friend in the tub / and we sang ‘Silent Night’ in three parts which was fun…” and it’s obvious ‘long term’ isn’t part of this equation. At best, the girl which Tillman references has to be a groupie, right?

“When You’re Smiling and Astride” is among the set’s most soulful cuts, enough so to make any soul veteran proud. The background vocals, the strings, and the organ mixed in the background – simply beautiful and magnificent. It is a complete 360º from “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” as Tillman has found ‘the real thing’ – “When you’re smiling and astride me I can hardly believe I found you / and I’m terrified by that.” Maybe the oddest reference is when Tillman claims, “I’ve got nothing to hide from you / kissing my brother in my dreams or finding God knows what in my jeans.” But, that is honesty, and “When You’re Smiling and Astride” is easily among the best of I Love You, Honeybear. 

“Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” continues the ‘pursuit of perfection’ established by I Love You, Honeybear where every note and nuance feels perfectly in placed.   Tillman’s powerful, earthy voice shines here, rising above the country/folk-tinged production work. The sound definitely emulates that of the bar of which the song is set in. The best lines come at the end as Tillman sings, “Why the long face, jerk-off? / Your chance has been taken – good one / you may think like an animal, but if you try that cat-and-mouse sh*t you’ll get bitten / keep moving.” So to sum up song and title, a bar is the perfect place for good things to get messed up, period.

“I wanna find somebody / but not like this / I’m a decent person / just a little aimless,” Tillman sings on the dramatic “Strange Encounter” which opens alarmingly. “You’ll only ever be the girl who just almost died in my house.” Continuing on the wrong pathway to love like “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt” or “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” “Strange Encounter” is alluring despite its irresponsible situation. The drama of that situation is accentuated beautiful by thoughtfully tailored music, yet another draw that makes I Love You, Honeybear so sweet.

By the electrifying close of “The Ideal Husband,” Tillman asserts, “I’m tired of running / tired of running / tired of running!’ Let’s put a baby in the oven! / Wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?” The answer to Tillman’s question is a resounding NO reading everything that Tillman has done wrong throughout his life. That said, the tale of which he’s crafted also speaks to the imperfections of everyone, particularly as they’ve found love and went on to change their lives and make a commitment to someone else.

“Bored in the USA” is seemingly absurd from the start: “How many people rise and say, ‘My brain’s so awfully glad to be here for yet another mindless day’.” Ultimately, Father John Misty seems to be painting a portrait that many feel about their lives as they get older. Things change from being youthful and vivacious to being nothing short of a drag – a total bummer filled with bills, “beauty warps and fades,” and keeping “my prescriptions filled.” That ultimately includes the problems suffered in the USA with joblessness, economical issues, etc. Most notably, “Bored in the USA” is a play on Bruce Springsteen’s more enthusiastic-sounding classic, “Born In the USA.” Even so, even Springsteen’s version is critical of certain facets of life in the U.S.A. and “Bored In The U.S.A.” just adds fuel to the fire. 

A track entitled “Holy Sh*t” naturally garners ones attention – it has a naughty word and popular exclamatory phrase! Even though it’s as brutally honest as everything else, Tillman never utters the titular line – it’s more of the sentiment he feels – almost like an epiphany. His references throughout embody the phrase, whether its “Ancient holy wars / dead religious / Holocausts / New regimes, old ideas” or “Eunuch sluts / consumer slaves / a rose by any other name / Carbon footprint / Incest dreams / F*ck the mother in the green…” It’s heady, but nothing short of astoundingly brilliant.

Following the grandiosity of “Holy Sh*t,” “I Went to the Store One Day” is much calmer – softer and more ‘reverent’ in sound. The lyrics retain their honesty and poetry, accompanied chilling, crescendoing strings and rhythmic guitar – not to mention the mandolin. It ends up being a superb way to close one of the year’s best albums, hands down.

How good is I Love You, Honeybear? Honestly, it is arguably the best album of 2015. That is saying a lot going against exceptional efforts like Björk’s Vulnicura and Lupe Fiasco’s epic rap masterwork Tetsuo & Youth, but Father John Misty’s sophomore album has so many positives working in its favor. It’s clever, honest (plenty of salty language), and among the more creative albums one will hear in modern times. By all means, James Tillman has scored his homerun, no questions asked!

Favorites: “I Love You, Honeybear,” “Chateau Lobby #4 (IN C For Two Virgins),” “When You’re Smiling And Astride,” “Bored in The USA,” “Holy Sh*t”

★★★★½

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