Although most well known for his part-time drumming for the first two Fleet Foxes’ albums, Father John Misty is quickly making a name for himself. Joshua Tillman, also known as J. Tillman, who released his first solo album under the moniker Father John Misty three years ago, is back with a triumphant, romantically intricate, and a defining album for his new career. I Love You, Honeybear in whole is about Tillman finding a lover who fits into his oddly rambunctious lifestyle. It’s about their similarities and differences, and how all of that fits into this complicated, 1,000-piece puzzle that is love. It offers no apologies and no hidden emotions; it’s completely direct, precisely about him and his woman, and is a beautiful depiction of true, raw, unfiltered romance.
“I Love You, Honeybear” is the first track off the album and it’s a relatively messed-up love song. It’s about two pessimisms finding love through their mutual hatred of the mundane world around them. Tillman’s storytelling is so poignant and personal with a dose of snarky sarcasm, which is most akin to Sun Kil Moon. “You’re bent over the altar / and the neighbors are complaining / that the misanthropes next door / are conceiving a Damien.” It’s a bold and shining, but still a murky opening.
The second track on the album, “Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins),” carries with it the same love-song tune, but with a dash of romance and it’s rather brilliant. Within the song, Tillman’s turns his negativity inwards towards their relationship. He questions their commonalities to other normal people, even though they’re trying to be different and detached: “dating for twenty years just feels pretty civilian.” It’s a wonderful moment, where Tillman questions if he should just marry her to prove his love. It’s so coated in specifics that it borders on cheesy, but winds up coming off as tender. “You left a note in your perfect script: ‘Stay as long as you want’ / I haven’t left your bed since.” It’s an adorably cute and quirky love song, without all the sap.
“True Affection” centers itself around a whirlwind affect of electronic sounds and landscapes. It sounds almost alike the infamous tunnel scene from the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, although much less terrifying. It’s Tillman on a journey to find true, uninhibited love. He’s surrounded and plagued by people talking to their loved ones through devices and not actually being present in the moment. It’s a song that could’ve easily sounded too off-the-wall for Father John Misty, but coupled with gorgeous backing vocals, electronic horns, and a corny 80s hip-hop drum beat, it somehow all works together.
For anyone who hates modern slang, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” is the perfect song for you. Tillman scorns his inability to understand or see eye-to-eye with his woman. He feels a disconnect in their interests, and winds up pointing out everything he dislikes about her. The story’s content brings to mind a modern-day twist on what worked for Johnny Cash; it doesn’t hold back and he says what’s exactly on his mind. “She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / and the malaprops make me want to f***ing scream.” It’s a big turn from the first few songs on the album, which were rooted in love and understanding. “Of the few main things I hate about her, one’s her petty, vogue ideas / someone’s been told too many times they’re beyond their years.”
“When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” is Father John Misty taking a note from Girls’ frontman Christopher Owens, and his love for gospel choirs. Tillman is searching for reconciliation for all the negative things he said about his lady. Although it features some odd and off-putting lyrics: “Kissing my brother in my dreams or finding God knows in my jeans.” It borderlines on coming across as too much. However, the song ends with robust, sliding guitars, reverb, and gorgeous, robust vocals that come across as hymn-like. This song highlights one of the best qualities of I Love You, Honeybear; it’s not afraid to take risks.
“Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” is one of the more aggressive tracks on the album. It focuses on Tillman’s incredible vocal range, which calls to mind Jim James from My Morning Jacket. Tillman feels so impassioned and loud that it’s rather sexy. He lays his worries bare at its climax: “Now my genius can’t drink in silence.”
Another track that features Tillman’s incredible, raw vocals is “Strange Encounter,” the seventh track on I Love You, Honeybear. The song isn’t as clear lyrically as other songs on the album; it possibly points to him cheating on his woman. “It’s not cheap, but here I am, giving it away, giving it away.” Although there’s a wonderful point where the music stops and Tillman’s commanding vocals perpetrate through the air, the track isn’t as strong as the rest of the album, but it sets up “The Ideal Husband” perfectly.
The eight song, “The Ideal Husband,” has Tillman pointing out all of his flaws, his fears, his problems, and him dwelling on the past mistakes he’s made. The track builds tumultuously, and it’s painful to listen to as Tillman gets extremely worked up and loses it in the end. He mocks himself and yells, “Let’s put a baby in the oven / wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?”
“Bored in the USA” is an iconic track that is incredibly depressing, but originally sound. Tillman is still here, deciphering his wrongdoings and where everything went wrong in both his relationship and life. He talks about having a stranger in his bed, which signifies his relationship has come to an end, and it’s panged him. “Now I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the way / I’ve grown more disappointing to you / as my beauty warps and fades.” The song ends with a depressing ode to being bored in America. Tillman starts blaming miniscule issues with the world around him and how terrible his life is, while others mock him. For Tillman to feature a laugh track in a song and have it payoff so cinematically is true brilliance.
“Holy Shit” begins rather quiet and vague, but presents us with his subdued side. His Americana influence feels inspired by Phosphorescent. The song is Tillman’s regression into his negative outlook on the world around him, which now includes love. “Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty… Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity.” He’s down on himself and his lost love, but now he’s trying to cope.
The last track on the album, “I Went to the Store One Day,” features a change in Tillman’s character himself. He discusses changing his views, and there’s hope for him to find renewed love with his woman again. It’s one of the more quieter and softer tracks on the album. It even has a dash of fairytale-like and dreamy. It’s perfectly down to earth and realistic, and has a beautifully gentle moment when he sings, “Say do you wanna get married / and put an end to our endless regressive tendency to scorn?”
I Love You, Honeybear is gorgeously complex, and although it may lose itself at times, it’s rooted in Tillman’s personal memories and familiar moments. Packing a crisp, heartfelt, and intimate punch to the folk genre, Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear is an early contender for album of the year.