Artist: Father John Misty
Title: Fear Fun
Label: Bella Union
Joshua Tillman the American folk singer also known as Father John Misty is to release his first album under the new alias at the end of April. The former drummer for Saxon Shore and Fleet Foxes, Tillman left the Foxes to focus on his solo work. His solo career has seen him release seven albums and 3 EPs and he also toured Europe extensively with artists such as Damien Jurado, Jesse Sykes and David Bazan.
Now, with a new name, the question is – has Tillman got a new style or outlook as a musician? He explained the name to Sub Pop in January 2012; “it’s all of me and none of me, if you can’t see that, you
won’t get it. What I call it is totally arbitrary, but I like the name. You’ve got to have a name. I never got to choose mine.” He continues, “‘People who make records are afforded this assumption by the culture that their music is coming from an exclusively personal place, but more often than not what you hear are actually the affectations of an ‘alter-ego’ or a cartoon of an emotionally heightened persona”.
Fear Fun apparently began developing during a period of “immobilizing period of depression” whilst
Tillman was living in Seattle; “Songwriting for me had always only been interesting and necessary because I saw it as this vehicle for truth, but I had this realization that all I had really done with it was lick my wounds for years and years, and become more and more isolated from people and experiences…. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about.” And since discovering this, and moving to the hippy land of Laurel Canyon, his writing has changed; “I was honest with myself about what music actually excites my joy-glands when I was considering the arrangements and instrumentation,” Tillman noted. “As opposed to what’s been enjoyable to me in the past – namely, alienating people or making choices based on what I think people won’t like or understand. Pretty narcissistic stuff.”
The album is descriptive, with absurd lyrics at times, but very listenable. “Fun Times in Babylon” opens
the album with a burst of vocals – Tillman’s voice is at its strongest, lyrics are enticing and believable, his note range vast. He prepares for success; “Look out Hollywood here I come”. “Nancy from Now On” carries on the steady, hypnotic rhythms and soothing percussion with melodic oohs and ahhs.
“Writing a Novel” sees more raw vocals and use of the banjo for a country vibe. “Well, You Can Do it
Without Me” and “Tee-Pee’s 1-12” are both with a similar country-folk vibe expressed in the arrangement,
and use of high pitched, fast paced of strings, hand claps and whistles. In “O I Long to Feel Your Arms
Around Me” we hear more hand claps and backing vocals for a tribal, choir like feel. The melodies in this
and throughout Fear Fun are just lovely.
The stories that run through the songs are folk/country in feel too. “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man” is a
song about a ladies’ man who dies – “left behind a legacy of ruin…now painted ladies want to hold my
gun”. And “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” is Tillman’s statement on making the record, guilt and
energy consumption, he sings; “I’m trying hard not to think so much about the truly staggering amount of
oil that it takes to make a record, all the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining, the high gloss, the tape and the gear…trying not to become too consumed with what’s a criminal volume of oil that it takes to paint a portrait..”. The ending track “Every Man Needs a Companion” is a comment on loneliness “every man needs a companion, someone to console him, like I need you”. It’s the narratives like these along with the rhythms and Tillman’s strong vocals that make Fear Fun an uplifting combination.
Reviewed by Heather Welsh.