Almost 2 years ago, Josh Tillman, better known as Father John Misty, released his first full length album, Fear Fun. After countless recommendations from friends along with finding out that Tillman was the former drummer Fleet Foxes, I was pretty eager to give it a listen. It was a really solid album, and a lot of my friends loved it, but I wasn’t really sold on it. The psychedelic folk sound he brought to the table was interesting, but it was a bit too poppy and bouncy for me at times. The strong point of that record was definitely the songwriting and storytelling, but the presentation was really a turn off at points.
Coming into this new record, I Love You, Honeybear, I honestly wasn’t that excited about it. The sound of his last record had been done by bands before and after Fear Fun’s release, and I thought it would go in that same direction. I guess I was both right and wrong.
The opening title track starts off with just some acoustic guitar and piano, and takes a turn when a light string section softly leads it into drums and finally to some grandiose vocals from Tillman. The prominent string section was a welcome addition, but the standard path of bouncy acoustic guitars and drums continued. The second track, “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” follows the same path even more closely.
The third track, “True Affection,” really threw me through a loop. The song begins with some fast, electric, swirling arpeggios which, to my surprise, leaped into electronic drums which stick throughout the whole track. Tillman did do a little experimenting with synthesizers on Fear Fun‘s “Nancy from Now On,” but this whole track revolves around that sound, and is completely different from anything else he has done. The way the vocals slide with the smooth synthesizers and electronic drums make it a definite standout on the record. The early placement on the track list and the fact that this is the only song of this style on the record does come off as a little strange, though.
What really carries the rest of the album is the overall outstanding songwriting and lyrics that Tillman was able to produce. He writes some of the most well delivered, blatantly honest, truthful, and sometimes even humorous lyrics that I’ve heard come out of this genre in a long time. The most prominent idea Tillam discusses on I Love You, Honeybear as a whole is, you guessed it, love. He really opens up and seems to put his heart out to the audience. The album presentation, with the grand string sections and piano melodies, make these songs seem incredibly heartfelt and genuine.
Overall, this record is a progressive from Fear Fun. The brutally honest song topics mixed with the overall soft, yet grand instrumentation and Tillman’s near perfect vocal delivery create a really incredible combination. The end this record does come up a little bit short as a whole, but Honeybear is still a great effort and a solid advancement in Tillman’s diverse sound. While some tracks did seem pretty forgettable after multiple listens, the standout tracks on the record, like “I Love You, Honeybear,” “Bored in the USA,” and”When You’re Smiling Astride Me,” definitely make it worth coming back to.