Defying narrow genre categorization, Father John Misty’s music is a quirky mixture of experimental rock and folk with psychedelic and electronic moments. The artist’s sophomore album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” released on Feb. 10, is the highly anticipated follow-up to his 2012 debut, “Fear Fun.” In the past, Father John Misty, a pseudonym for Josh Tillman, has been constantly referred to as the “ex-Fleet Foxes drummer” because of the time he spent touring with the popular indie band. With his newest album, Tillman proves that he has the skill to stand out on his own.
On a basic level, “I Love You, Honeybear,” delivers a pleasing, fresh sound for indie music lovers. The album has been receiving high praise from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone for its strong instrumentation. Tillman effortlessly balances a diverse-sounding album while retaining the cohesion between dissimilar sonic elements. “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” incorporates a cheerful Spanish horn, while “True Affection” borders on electronic folk. Overall, “I Love You, Honeybear” strings together a handful of dreamy, rhythmically sweeping ballads.
Yet Misty’s songs are more than just melodically pleasing. Each carefully constructed track floods with raw emotion. In “Bored in the USA,” he slowly and sorrowfully declares, “Oh, they gave me a useless education / And a subprime loan / On a craftsman home / Keep my prescriptions filled / And now I can’t get off / But I can kind of deal / Oh, with being bored in the USA.” Decrying American capitalism, greed and the fallacy of the American dream, his sorrowful ballad makes an ironic and poignant jab at Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (1984) while condemning the mundane and meaningless life glorified in mainstream American culture.
His emotion is hardly restricted to societal angst; Misty’s personal life seems to have infiltrated the album as well. This is especially evident when he sings about love — the most cliché of song topics — in the least cliché way possible. For example, in “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” he talks about his wife, Emma, whom he recently married. In his characteristic off-beat spirit, he and his wife made their own music video for the track on their wedding anniversary. The video features dreamy, kaleidoscopic, swirling images that filter iPad videos of Misty and his wife as Tillman sings, “First time, you let me stay the night despite your own rules / You took off early to go cheat your way through film school / You left a note in your perfect script: “Stay as long as you want” / I haven’t left your bed since.”
Despite his love-struck emotions in many of the tracks, Misty proves to be artistically complex; his thoughts aren’t static. “Holy Shit” lets us in on his doubts about love through the lyrics, “Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty / What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve?/ Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity.”
Tillman’s own summary of his album does it justice: “My ambition, aside from making an indulgent, soulful, and epic sound worthy of the subject matter,” he described to record label SubPop, “was to address the sensuality of fear, the terrifying force of love, the unutterable pleasures of true intimacy and the destruction of emotional and intellectual prisons in my own voice.”
For the listener, the album is a window into Tillman’s deeply personal thoughts and emotions as he reflects on getting married and approaching middle-age. In an overly manufactured and superficial music industry, it’s rare that an artist is as genuinely emotional as Tillman. Beyond his quirky style, this raw honesty is what makes his album unique.