Friday, May 04, 2012

REVIEW: Father John Misty - Fear Fun


Undoubtedly, Josh “J” Tillman’s latest outing under the new moniker Father John Misty is going to be met with comparisons to Fleet Foxes, or, at the very least, will be set up as an offshoot of Fleet Foxes. But that’s all so very wrong. Yes, Tillman was the drummer for that folk rock band for the better part of four years, but he’s been active as a songwriter for a great deal longer than that. If anything, Tillman’s 8th album, Fear Fun, is a testament to his maturity as a songwriter, musician, and performer over the past decade, and it’s one of this year’s most well-rounded records.

After a number of stark, crushing solo records under his own name, Tillman begins a new chapter of his already impressive career with the debut of Father John Misty’s Fear Fun, his most expansive album to date. At heart, it still has the same soothing yet powerful folk of his past work, but it’s steeped heavily in ’60 and ‘70s era country with nods to the Nashville Sound as string arrangements complement its twang. Sharp, layered vocal harmonies make songs such as the lovelorn, downtempo "Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2" and the lush, immense "Only Son of the Ladiesman" sound like a cross between Laurel Canyon folk and 70’s country folk grandeur.

And while that may paint this album as something rather heavy-handed, Tillman does a great job of balancing the serious with the tongue-in-cheek, covering everything from the superficiality of cosmetic surgery to the record business to the presence of death in life. Whether he’s covering death (“Hollywood Cemetery Forever Sings”), lonesomeness and purpose (“Everyman Needs A Companion”), or the absurdity of the glamorous life ("Only Son of the Ladiesman"), Tillman displays a wit and poetic satire.

Album standouts like the Americana rock dirge “Hollywood Cemetery Forever Sings” and the orchestral, poignant “This Is Sally Hatchet” are fantastic songs, but don't necessarily fit within the framework of the album’s overall country folk character. And at 12 tracks, the album may have benefited from a bit of sonic trimming -- even though all songs here are successes across the board. But even with these stylistic turns, Tillman’s booming voice, with just a hint of a quiver, leads the way, and Fear Fun manages to be diverse without really ever succumbing to its eclecticism.

When drummer's leave very successful bands in pursuit of a solo career, people hold great expectations for what they'll produce. But for Josh Tillman, he really couldn't care less. After all, he's been crafting excellent records for nearly a decade. No, Father John Misty won’t be living in the shadow of Tillman’s most recent band as this debut is a record that pays heed, equally, to both homage and originality, recalling the best elements of ‘60s classic rock, Laurel Canyon folk, and the pastoral, harmonious side of folk rock that Tillman’s been responsible for helping to spearhead over the past few years. Fear Fun is a record that finds euphoria in melancholy, celebrating the hassles in life and re-examining just what happiness is.

Fear Fun came out Tuesday on Sub Pop. Pick it up here.

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