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 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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