New albums from Father John Misty and Car Seat Headrest.

 

Pure Comedy, Father John Misty.

Pure Comedy, Father John Misty.

Pure Comedy is the latest album from Father John Misty and it’s as profoundly disappointing as his previous release was impressive. And it’s not hard to see what’s happened.

The penultimate track on that last album, I Love You, Honeybear, reviewed here, is the melodious “Holy Shit”. There, he briefly name-checks many of the Big Issues baring down upon us in these our oh so uncertain times, before breezily dismissing them to ask disingenuously what any of them have to do with all the really important stuff that he has to deal with.

It’s impossible to decide whether he’s being entirely serious, deadpan or a bit of both. Which is what gives the song its charm. And it’s all too easy to imagine what’s happened in the interim.

On the one hand, the commercial success and critical acclaim that that previous album enjoyed mean that the last couple of years must have been a relatively happy time to be Mr. Josh Tillman. And, as fans of Dylan, Shakespeare and pretty much any artist who has ever lived will know, nothing is as creatively stultifying as personal happiness, however briefly endured.

The said culprit.

The said culprit.

And on the other, he’s clearly begun to believe some of the hype surrounding his prowess as an apparently thought-provoking lyricist.

So that the new album sees him musing almost exclusively on those big, heavy themes which were briefly touched upon in “Holy Shit”. Only now, far from wryly acknowledging his own ignorance on any of them, he seems to imagine that he’s suddenly become something of a sage, and any sense of irony has been summarily dismissed. What’s worse, his mellifluous voice, impeccable diction and regal sense of melody mean that it’s quite impossible to escape all of those dreadful lyrics.

Imagine Martin from the Simpsons being set as his homework the task of producing a set of lyrics designed to impress the grown ups. This is what his first draft would have looked like. Not that he’d have ever actually shown them to anyone, obviously.

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial.

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial.

I studiously avoided the latest Car Seat Headrest album, Teens of Denial. The boys from All Songs Considered, reviewed here, have been so effusive about it these last few months that I’d been thoroughly put off and was quietly hoping to be able to casually dismiss it. There’s a thin line that separates infectious enthusiasm from irritating insistence. So I’m delighted to be able to report that they were right and I was wrong. It really is that good.

There’s a palpable air of early Beck wafting from the tracks collected here. He inhabits a very similar persona to the one that Beck adopted way back when, as a guileless slacker drifting directionless like Pound’s hedonist bereft of purpose, to the tune of a post-punk, new-grunge musical backdrop.

The main man ,Beck.

The main man, Beck.

But as with Beck, the sonic landscape is infinitely more complex than it first appears, and you quickly find yourself disappearing from the song’s casual surfaces into the murky depths below. All of which results in a serious album, from one of the most exciting new artists to emerge for many a moon.

You can see the video for “Vincent”, track 2 from Teens of Denial here

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Former Fleet Fox flames into being as Father John Misty.

I Love You Honeybear, Father John Misty

I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty

J. Tillman spent four years as the drummer with Fleet Foxes after joining the band in 2008. But by then he’d already produced four or five solo albums. And since leaving the band in 2012, he’s added another in the guise of his new persona Father John Misty. But nothing could have prepared us for what he offers up here, with this his second album under that moniker, I Love You, Honeybear.

Tillman said that for years, he dreamt of garnering the kind of hallowed praise that the likes of Townes Van Zandt or Gram Parsons are garlanded with, and of remaining forever one of music’s fabled secret finds. But he gradually came to realise that the audience at his gigs were far more engaged with the relaxed, smart alec persona he adopted in between songs, than they were with the somewhat po-faced numbers he was ostensibly there to perform.

So he headed off into the desert with enough magic mushrooms to send a psychedelic elephant into space and sat down to write a novel. And it was only then that he finally found his song writing voice. This is the result.

Lennon and Nilsson get thrown of The Troubadour.

Lennon and Nilsson get thrown out of The Troubadour.

As the boys from Pitchfork note in their review here, where it gets a suitably impressed 8.8, it is, at least initially, a disconcertingly slippery record to pin down.

Yes there are the sorts of soaring harmonies you’d expect from a former Fleet Fox. And sure, the Beatles are indeed an obvious reference.

But it’s the kind of Beatles album you might have heard had John Lennon made it all by himself five years after they split up. He and Harry Nilsson downed industrial sized quantities of drugs in L.A. every night, sending the former Beatle on a rollercoaster of violent mood swings that saw him oscillate wildly from profound self-disgust and doubt, to arrogant disdain and scorn, and back again.

J Tillman, born again as Father John Misty.

J Tillman, born again as Father John Misty.

Even when Tillman puts the violent introspection of Lennon aside to momentarily channel George Harrison in When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, there’s a dangerous edge to the lyrics, not withstanding the honeyed sweep of the guitar.

It’s the perfect palliative to the track that precedes it, The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment, where a latter day Factory girl is felled by the kind of undiluted scorn a young Dylan would have approved of.

“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes,

And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream,

I wonder if she even knows what that word means,

Well, it’s literally not that.”

And we’ll assume of course that the misuse of malaprops was done for comic effect. What’s so impressive, and so emotionally engaging about the album is that it perfectly captures the confusion of youth, but it does so thanks to a lyrical and musical sophistication that only comes with age.

Just say Yes.

Just say Yes.

Sure it’s hard to know precisely when he’s merely striking a carefully constructed pose, and when he’s genuinely shedding the many masks to reveal the boy beneath. But his glorious grasp of melody, and the unrestrained passion that he delivers them in give a strong sense that beneath the surface scorn, there’s a lot more of the real him on show than he’d care to readily admit.

And it’s that combination of un-repentant intellectual confidence with profound emotional confusion, together with the clear sense that this is an album, that has been clearly thought about and meticulously programmed, that makes this such an impressive piece of work.

You can see him perform one of its songs, Bored in the USA on Letterman here.

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