REVIEW: Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear
Sarcastic, brutally honest, biting and heartfelt. It’d be easy to say I Love You Honeybear is one big joke. To be certain, many of these songs are sang with Tillman’s tongue firmly in cheek. He’s never been afraid to laugh at himself, the industry he’s a part of or the world in general. When “creating” Father John Misty, Josh Tillman said (and I’m paraphrasing) that he had a realization that he didn’t need to be so self-serious to write good music. In his words “being a tortured artist is meaningless.” What started on Fear Fun has been fully embraced on I Love You Honeybear. So, many of these songs are funny. That’s obvious. What may not be is that there is a lot of truth to these songs. He uses his wit to great effect, almost veering on the absurd at times (the laugh track on “Bored in the USA” jumps to mind), but with a great deal of honesty behind it all.
In Misty’s words the record is a concept album of sorts (according to Sub Pop write-up which maybe should be taken with a grain of salt considering the “exercises for listening” and his new music service):
“In a parking lot somewhere he meets Emma [his wife], who inspires in him a vision of a life wherein being truly seen is not synonymous with shame, but possibly true liberation and sublime, unfettered creativity. These ambitions are initially thwarted as jealousy, self-destruction and other charming human character traits emerge.”
You can hear some of that throughout, but this is not a traditional love letter. There are ups and downs, at points bordering on disdain. Who knows how autobiographical I Love You Honeybear is though? I don’t doubt there’s true love between Tillman and his wife. Just watch this performance of “I Went to the Store One Day” which was written about the first time he met Emma (that’s her watching from the sidelines and walking with him at the end):
The album works fantastically as a whole and taken in parts. The album opener and title track sets the scene well. It was apparently the first song written for the album “while Emma and I were hallucinating in Joshua Tree.” It’s certainly post-apocalyptic in a way or at least nihilistic (and not the only one that dabbles in that motif).
The highlight for me though is “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment.” It’s one of the best songs I’ve heard this year and I certainly won’t be surprised if I don’t hear a better one. By far, my favorite lines on the album come from this song:
“She says like literally music is the air she breathes / and the malaprops make me wanna fuckin’ scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means? / Well it’s literally not that”
There are a number of tracks where Misty’s wordplay work well with the gorgeous arrangements. “Holy Shit” is a great example. The musicianship isn’t flashy, but it carries the song. When he sings “satirical news, free energy, mobile lifestyle, loveless sex, independence, happiness / oh, and no one ever knows the real you and life is cheap” you’d think maybe the guy was just talking, but these songs are painstakingly crafted. Whether it’s catharsis or a true labor of love (or a combination of both), I can’t tell you. What I can say is that I Love You Honeybear is a great album and I’ve never been made to laugh with such a heavy heart.
I Love You Honeybear
“Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
“Bored In The USA”
I Love You Honeybear is out now via Sub Pop.