Album of the week : Fear Fun - Father John Misty

Father John Misty is many things, and it’s also nothing at all. It’s just a name that Josh Tillman settled on as a means to an end: To differentiate Misty’s music from J. Tillman, his other alter-ego that he’s been steadily releasing music under since 2005. And there’s also Tillman’s three-year shift as the drummer/backing vocalist in Fleet Foxes, a gig that took him around the world and to the top of the charts. But Tillman left the Foxes in Seattle, took off for L.A., and he chronicles it all as Father John Misty in Fear Fun

There are very rare instances when a musician leaves an established band to focus on a more personal project that ends up living up to his former band’s standards. There are even rarer instances where that musician ends up surpassing them. That Tillman has arguably pulled off this feat isn’t as much to detract from Fleet Foxes as it is a testament to Tillman’s abilities

That said, those abilities manifest themselves in familiar fashion. In fact, some reviewers have gone so far as to claim that Fear Fun borders on plagiarism, and there’s no doubt that the album draws on a tradition of revered singers – masters of the likes of Harry Nilsson or Roy Orbison – to create a collection of heady, sprawling, beautiful Americana. ‘Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2’ lassoes in slide guitar, barroom piano plonks and hard-bitten lyrics to assemble a country track worthy of Nashville, ‘This Is Sally Hatchet’ somehow works its way through blues, Beatles atonality and the strings from ‘Kashmir’ and even the much-lauded ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ brings in the melodic echoes of more modern heroes such as Deerhunter. But to accuse Tillman (or is that Misty now?) of being derivative would be to ignore what’s being achieved here - it’s in his authorship, the new name he’s giving to his music, that Misty revels

Fear Fun is either an incredible autobiography or a collection of quite wonderful stories. From ‘Nancy From Now On’s staggeringly arresting opening lines (“Oh, pour me another drink / And punch me in the face / You can call me Nancy”) to the nihilistic environmentalist’s lament that lies within ‘Now I’m Learning To Love The War’, there’s the sense of someone telling a meaningful story at every turn, with those seemingly well-known musical styles being abused as a base to subvert any easy expectation the listener might get from the twang of a steel string

It’s that confusion that makes Fear Fun what it is – the more styles and lyrics jostle and reposition, the more we understand the man underneath it all. Whether writing directly or indirectly, Tillman’s revealing more of his artistic spirit in these cluttered, historically chained songs than he ever did when he lived up to the ‘one man and his guitar’ stereotype. Amongst  the hurried mandolin picks of ‘Funtimes in Babylon’ we get the escapist lust to “Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved”; there’s the laundry list of personal characteristics set to a steadily beating Western heart in ‘Only Son Of The Ladiesman’ (“I’m a steady hand, I’m a Dodgers fan, I’m a leading brand of a one night stand, I’m a ladiesman”); one of the set’s relative rib-ticklers is the two-step worthy ‘I’m Writing a Novel’, which seems to nod to both the Mamas and the Papas (Creeque Alley) and the Beatles (Paperback Write”), and, as he strips the album to its core in its final track, ‘Everyman Needs a Companion’we get the most nakedly evident admission of it all - “I never liked the name Joshua / I got tired of J”

When all’s said and done and the album’s played through, it’s apparent that Father John Misty has crafted an album that’s destined to rank very high up on many year-end lists. It’s also abundantly clear that Tillman’s set himself up quite nicely for the long haul. Every track on Fear Fun is laced with its own unique, original, and intriguing charm. Ultimately, it’ll be hard to find a more awe-inspiring album this year than Fear Fun. This is a record that deserves a spot in just about any contemporary music collection

Buy it here

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