Father John Misty’s flies the freaky folk flag on ‘Fear Fun’

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Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings from thatgo on Vimeo.

On the surface, it may appear that Josh Tillman has lost his damn mind.

The 30-year-old indie veteran left his well-paying post as drummer for Fleet Foxes, dropped his long-running slow-death-folk solo project J. Tillman, then started a new one with an odd pseudonym — Father John Misty — and a risque video for the first single where a bloodied Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation) goes batshit crazy while quick shots of him making out with another dude are peppered in for seemingly no reason (see above).

But fear not, music fans — Misty’s hippied-out and druggy Sub Pop debut, Fear Fun, is an early candidate for album of the year. Tillman has minimized the bleakness of his previous solo efforts and the pastoral prettiness of Fleet Foxes, instead turning up the knob on an eclectic mix of retro styles that serve as the base for his sordid tales of a twisted California.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for Father John Misty’s Fear Fun is that it features Tillman finally stretching out his stellar pipes — though he had arguably the best voice in Fleet Foxes, he was relegated to background duty on his lone studio work with them, last year’s Helplessness Blues, whereas the J. Tillman albums were very hushed efforts. That isn’t the case here, though — especially on “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” where he handles both some serious belting and an impressive cascade of wordless backgrounds, and “This Is Sally Hatchet,” which has some show-stealing falsettos.

“Sally Hatchet” is an exquisite track, too — rough and unassuming at first, the track builds upon itself in a Beatles-in-their-prime fashion, complete with “I Am the Walrus”-style ascending orchestration, Abbey Road-esque stabs of trebly guitar, and a ringing solo that could just go on forever.

The Beatles aren’t the only obvious classic artists that Misty takes cues from — “Well, You Can Do It Without Me” cops Gram Parsons’ up-tempo twang, “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2” is a very close relative to Graham Nash’s “I Used To Be A King,” and The Monkees of all people are conjured up in “I’m Writing A Novel.” Also from the didn’t-see-that-coming-department is the yacht-rock of “Nancy From Now On” (which, you should probably know, is actually an awesome genre to take influence from). The song provides a nice yin to the yang of the obligatory early 70s Neil Young sounds that are all over the album.

The instrumentation, as a whole, is fantastic. The drums on single “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” boom like rudimentary Zeppelin, while the crackly tone of the rhythm guitar absolutely makes the song. Several songs have distinctive Vox organ and country slide sounds, and the bass hits a late-60s sweet spot at just about every turn.

The Foxes fans will be satiated with opener “Times In Babylon,” “O I Long To Fell Your Arms Around Me” and closer “Everyman Needs A Companion” — all retain their forrest-y, churchly and acoustic splendor — but they lack the fun-timing vibe the rest of Fear Fun spins on.

Lyrics are the only other spot where Misty missteps, as some of the dark humor is drowned out by some of the more serious melodies (specifically “Ladiesman”).

Luckily, Fear Fun never strays too far from the fun, and the emotional freak show that is Track 1 through 12 is well worth the price of admission.

 

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.