Love & Mirrors: Father John Misty Atones on “I Love You, Honeybear”

A touching ode and thoughtful examination of modern love from the Sub Pop Absurdist.
By    February 17, 2015

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Will Schube knows to not try that cat and mouse shit

Musicians invent backstories to give their music greater meaning. Perhaps the reason Father John Misty’s origin story has been told ad nauseam is because his music is too clever, too witty, and simply too good to exist in a vacuum. The psychedelic trip in which he “found himself,” the years of wallowing as folk troubadour J. Tillman, and the stint with the Fleet Foxes have all led to a greater understanding of how Josh Tillman became Father John Misty. The ability to associate particular influences or ideas with a developing history allows the listener a deeper connection with the music. They bring meaning to music that isn’t already there. Misty’s narrative flips tradition—the music comes first, the story is a supplement.

His debut, Fear Fun, took Laurel Canyon folk and turned it on its head, brutally satirizing that culture and the ways in which goofy hippie meanderers became synonymous with the folks who “found themselves” in the 60s. The songs are great too (and seem overlooked when discussing Father John Misty).

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His latest, I Love You, Honeybear, is an expertly crafted pop record intent on reconciling Tillman’s hyper-sardonic lyricism with a portrait of an artist deeply in love. On it, he finds new, interesting ways of tackling the most cliche musical topic. Every utterance or lyrical devotion to his wife Emma is presented through grinning teeth, with a sly wink.

On “Honeybear,” he sings the melody, “Everything is doomed / and nothing will be spared / but I love you honeybear” atop a Phil Spector-esque wall of bombastic drums and exaggerated orchestration. It’s a nice thesis for the record—amidst social chaos and global destruction, Tillman and his lady will withstand the wreckage, unfazed by anything outside of themselves. It’s sentiment is echoed on “Holy Shit,” one of the intellectually-loud tracks the album has to offer. Over an acoustic guitar progression that sounds like John Lennon’s solo music—if Lennon were an alcoholic or found his dreams of peace swallowed, shat out, and pissed upon—Tillman sings,

“Oh and love is just an institution / Based on human frailty / What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve? / Maybe love is just an economy / Based on resource scarcity / But what I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.”

He’s in a place where love transcends its meaning and what’s left is that intangible, indescribable emotion. A place that, keep in mind, is shrouded in references to “Munich sluts” and “mobile lifestyles.” The love is there, but its buried deep beneath the surface of Misty’s critiques. What seems to matter, though, is that these sentiments find ways of pushing through and establishing precedence over the impending doom.

The album runs through a laundry list of Misty’s faults, the wrongs he’s committed and his attempt to make things right, or, at the very least, repent. The guitars wail and Misty harnesses this energy as he seems to witness the pain he’s caused others in real time. The record ends with “I Went to the Store One Day,” one final homage to the woman who’s fingerprints are tangentially all over this record. It’s last words are not Misty’s smartest but certainly his most true. He asks, “I’ve seen you around / What’s your name?” The album recedes into silence and it’s hard not to feel wrecked and smitten with the love Tillman’s found, and the world that’s risen from it.

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