Forget anything you think you know about Josh Tillman. Father John Misty, Tillman’s new project and name under which he released Fear Fun, out today on Sub Pop, is about as far from Fleet Foxes and his seven albums as J. Tillman as you can get. And this is a good thing. A damn good thing.
The first single off Fear Fun, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, is a thrashing folk rock anthem, and the second single off the album, Nancy From Now On, is just as good, and as perplexing as Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings. “Oh pour me another drink. And punch me in the face. You can call me Nancy,” Tillman sings in the opening lines of the track. Another opening verse, “I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming please come help me that Canadian shaman gave a little too much for me,” off of I’m Writing A Novel, is just as weird: fearful and fun.
It would definitely help to back track a bit. After a period of depression at his home in Seattle, Tillman left Seattle for L.A. “I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go,” he said in an interview with Sub Pop. He settled into a house in Laurel Canyon and “spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences almost in real-time.” This explains a lot.
To describe the sound of Father John Misty, this entire story is important. Throughout the entire album, the vocals and harmonies are certainly reminiscent of his past with Fleet Foxes. There is definitely an L.A. sound in the new album, as well as many other influences that one can assume can only come from a road trip to California in a van full of mushrooms.
Range is probably the best way to describe it. Range in sounds, from thrashing drums to steady bass and keyboards, organs and whistling. Range in style, from Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, to Well, You Can Do It Without Me. Every song is very different. But each song definitely sounds like Father John Misty.
And while the more thrashing Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, and Nancy From Now On are more fun to listen to, it’s the songs like Now I’m Learning to Love the War that really shine on why this new material from Tillman’s is his most exciting yet. The tune, which begins as a list of what it takes to make various items, from making a record (“All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining, the high gloss, the tape and the gear,”) to painting a portrait (“the acrylic, the varnish, aluminum tubes filled with latex, the solvents and dye.) By the end of the tune Tillman has switched his angle. “Let’s just call this what it is. My vanity gone wild with my crisis. One day this all will repeat. Now I sure hope they make something useful out of me.” It’s not about the ingredients. It’s about what you make. And Josh Tillman made something good.
You can grab a copy of Fear Fun here. The Father John Misty tour kicks off in San Diego on May 2nd, and swings by Brighton Music Hall in Boston on Wednesday May 16th. Check out all the tour dates here.