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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Iron & Wine’s Sumptuous New Album “Ghost On Ghost”.

Ghost On GhostIt looked as if Iron & Wine was part of that vogue for new roots Amer­i­cana that was all the rage about 4 or 5 years ago. Musi­cians seemed to be turn­ing away from dig­i­tal­ly mas­tered lay­ers of processed synths and return­ing instead to orig­i­nal instru­ments acousti­cal­ly record­ed in lofi.

Gillian Welch and Alli­son Krauss sang on O Broth­er Where Art Thou. And bands like Fleet Fox­es, Bon Iver and Iron & Wine enjoyed unex­pect­ed pop­u­lar acclaim, which I wrote about ear­li­er here.

Inevitably the hoi pol­loi caught on, and the result was alas Mum­ford and Sons.

In many ways though Iron & Wine, aka Sam Beam, has been mov­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion all along. He might have begun in the hushed, paired down, sparse acoustic mode beloved of many a bed­room. But his sound­scape has been expand­ing ever since.

His third album, The Shepherd’s Dog from 2007, which seemed at the time to be quin­tes­sen­tial­ly lofi, was fol­lowed by Kiss Each Oth­er Clean in 2011, and now this, Ghost On Ghost.

With each new album the sound gets big­ger, the arrange­ments more com­plex and his plain­tive vocals are cush­ioned ever more com­fort­ably in a bed of reverb and overdub.

Gram-ParsonIn oth­er words, he’s pur­su­ing the same course chart­ed by Gram Par­sons and The Fly­ing Bur­ri­to Broth­ers in the late 60s and ear­ly 70s. And by merg­ing the rich har­monies of the Beach Boys with the graft and craft of The Band, he gives his angst an unex­pect­ed glean.

Desert Bab­bler”, track 2 on this lat­est album, sounds like it could have been the B side on an unre­leased Beach Boys Christ­mas sin­gle. And track 3, “Joy” could just as eas­i­ly have been its A side. You can see the video for it here.

Whilst the penul­ti­mate track, “Lovers’ Rev­o­lu­tion” feels like some­thing that might have turned up on Astral Weeks if some­body else had been asked to pick up the mike – you can hear it here. Before “Baby Cen­ter Stage” brings the album to a serene close by return­ing us to the realm of Fleet­wood Mac, sun­shine and California.

Pris­tine pop cased in a rich musi­cal heritage.

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