Archives for March 2015

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 and Brandy Alexan­ders 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 that sim­i­lar­ly vio­lent intro­spec­tion aside to momen­tar­i­ly chan­nel George Har­ri­son, which he does 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 let’s assume shall we that rather than being qui­et­ly iron­ic, that that mis­use of mala­props was done con­scious­ly and 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 with which he deliv­ers them 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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Birdman” doesn’t quite take off. And “Jupiter” sinks.

Michael Keaton in "Birdman".

Michael Keaton in “Bird­man”.

Mexico’s Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu burst on to the inter­na­tion­al film cir­cuit with Amores Per­ros in 2000, one of the most excit­ing and con­fi­dent debuts for many a moon.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, since then things have gone decid­ed­ly down­hill. We got the pon­der­ous and frankly soapy 21 Grams in ’03, the por­ten­tous and all too pre­cious Babel in ’06 and more of the same with Biu­ti­ful in ‘10.

That’s three dull duds in a row. So the first thing to say is that Bird­man is def­i­nite­ly some­thing of a return to form, albeit of the qual­i­fied variety.

"Amores Perros".

Amores Per­ros”.

Nom­i­nal­ly, it’s the sto­ry of an actor pur­sued by his alter ego, the Bat­man like super­hero he long ago starred as in one of those Hol­ly­wood block­busters that so many actors like to feign embar­rass­ment over. But real­ly, it’s a won­der­ful­ly com­pact and con­tained cham­ber piece set in the suit­ably con­fined space of the theatre.

Michael Keaton – you know, the guy that used to be Bat­man – is the washed-up has-been try­ing to give his career the sheen of respectabil­i­ty by adapt­ing a Ray­mond Carv­er short sto­ry for the Broad­way stage.

Stand­ing in his way are his girl­friend, Andrea Rise­bor­ough, his daugh­ter, Emma Stone, the method-obsessed star actor, the method-obsessed Edward Nor­ton and his love inter­est in the play, Nao­mi Watts.

And for 75 min­utes or so, we get a won­der­ful­ly bitchy, impres­sive­ly nuanced, grip­ping dra­ma in which each char­ac­ter reveals them­selves to be at least as messed up as Keaton. Nor­ton is par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive giv­ing warmth and depth to what could have been a one dimen­sion­al sleaze, and sug­gest­ing that con­trary to appear­ances, he does have a sense of humour. And Keaton obvi­ous­ly is huge­ly impressive.

'All About Eve", now that's how you sneer.

All About Eve”, now that’s how you sneer.

But there’s a reveal­ing scene at around the 70 minute mark when the actor con­fronts the feared crit­ic, played by Lind­say Dun­can.

This you felt is what the film had been build­ing up to all along. Here was the moment for Iñár­ritu to stamp his author­i­ty much as Godard did in One Plus One, with “The crit­ic is as close to the artist as the his­to­ri­an is to the man of action”, or as Bren­dan Behan had with his famous “Crit­ics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it them­selves.” But the film fluffs its lines, and instead of a with­er­ing put down all the scene deliv­ers is hol­low blus­ter in the form of emp­ty huff­ing and puffing.

From here on in, the film qui­et­ly los­es its direc­tion, as it mis­tak­en­ly attempts to take flight. And for the last 20 min­utes or so, that por­ten­tous­ness returns, as the film makes a con­scious effort to become cin­e­mat­ic. And all that won­der­ful­ly claus­tro­pho­bic ten­sion is allowed to dis­si­pate, dis­ap­pear­ing into thin air. What had promised to be a con­tem­po­rary take on All About Eve and an impres­sive com­pan­ion piece to Sex, Lies and Video­tape becomes, yawn,  just anoth­er Oscar vehicle.

"Jupiter Ascending".

Jupiter Ascend­ing”.

What a pity. Bird­man des­per­ate­ly wants to be cin­e­ma, but all it ends up being is theatre.

So, Jupiter Ascend­ing, is it real­ly as bad as every­one says it is? Well, for one thing, as thin and incon­se­quen­tial as the script is, it’s not Star Wars bad. And yes, bereft of a sto­ry that any­one oth­er than a 5 year old would own up to, watch­ing some­thing that’s so entire­ly depen­dent on CGI is like hav­ing to watch a video game you’re not allowed to actu­al­ly play. But in fair­ness, it’s 7 hours short­er than Lord Of the Rings was (16 if you include the sequel), and no one seemed ter­ri­bly both­ered about being asked to sit through that.

Truth be told, it’s very dis­ap­point­ing. Espe­cial­ly after the sim­i­lar­ly but wrong­ly ignored Cloud Atlas, Andy and (now) Lana Wachowski’s pre­vi­ous film.

As I men­tioned in my review here, the rel­a­tive­ly restrained use of CGI there was put entire­ly at the ser­vice of the sto­ry and the char­ac­ters who inhab­it­ed them.

"Cloud Atlas", just as visually arresting, but with a story.

Cloud Atlas”, just as visu­al­ly arrest­ing, but with a story.

Jupiter Ascend­ing is like see­ing what you’d thought was a reformed alco­holic falling spec­tac­u­lar­ly off the wag­on, going off on an almighty ben­der to make up for lost time. It’s all CGI here. And what­ev­er sto­ry there might have been once upon a time has been irre­triev­ably buried. Instead, the cup over­floweth with unremit­ting tedium.

All we can do is hope that this was a one off. And that now, they’ll have got it out of their sys­tem once and for all.

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