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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Brian Epstein’s Brief but Dazzling Life with The Beatles.

Brian Epstein with the Beatles.

Brian Epstein with the Beatles.

When I saw that the documentary on Brian Epstein on BBC4 was in two parts, lasting over 3 hours, my heart sank. What more could there possibly be to learn about the Beatles? Happily, I was gloriously wrong.

In 1963, a Brian Epstein act was on the number one spot in the UK charts for 37 of the 52 weeks. Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer, Cilla Black, and of course the Beatles. And yet just three years later it all began to unravel.

Texas, God bless America.

Texas, God bless America.

During their tumultuous 1966 tour The Beatles received a spate of serious death threats in Japan, had their records burnt in the Philippines and had to deal in the American south with John’s bigger than Jesus remarks.

They decided to quit touring and concentrate instead on the recording studio. For Epstein, this was a disaster. Without in any way planning it, the Beatles suddenly stopped turning to their business manager for their every decision , and came instead to rely increasingly on their producer George Martin.

Much more damning from a personal perspective was the growing realization that Epstein had made a complete mess of the merchandising deals he had worked out on their behalf after The Beatles had so spectacularly broken America. Business was his purpose in life and deals were supposed to have been his currency.

And then there was his private life. Inevitably, the elegant, suave and extremely erudite gay music impresario had that taste for danger that British establishment figures seem inexorably drawn to. And he’d gone and gotten himself a bit of American rough. All too predictably, he was humiliated by him.

Epstein reposes at home.

Epstein reposes at home.

By 1967, the lonely, gay, Jewish multi-millionaire discovered that for all his apparent success, he was as much of an outsider then as he’d ever been. And that spring he attempted suicide. A few months later, on the bank holiday August weekend, he tried again. This time, there was nobody around to rescue him.

This is the sort of programme that the BBC does so fantastically well. Originally broadcast in 1998 as part of their justly famed Arena strand, it melded first hand interviews with archive footage to produce a cultural snap shot of a moment in time. And the extraordinary impact one man had on it. Keep your eye out for it.

You can see a clip here.

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