Father John Misty
(Sub Pop Records)
Josh Tillman has left Fleet Foxes and now he wants to party! On Fear Fun, his debut album under the new moniker Father John Misty (and his eighth solo album overall) Tillman ditches the folk seriousness of the Foxes and his prior solo work. On “Funtimes In Babylon,” he sings, “I would like to abuse my lungs/Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved/Look out Hollywood, here I come,” over a lush arrangement that recalls the Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb partnership mixed with a touch of the Countrypolitan sound of Patsy Cline and Owen Bradley.
“Nancy From Now On” follows with another debauched come-on: “Pour me another drink/And punch me in the face/You can call me Nancy.” The gorgeous falsetto chorus will go straight to the gooey heart of any 70’s AM Gold enthusiast, with echoes of pre-Saturday Night Fever Bee Gees, and Harry Nilsson’s classic “Everybody’s Talkin’.”
Half of the tunes here are really stellar, full of adventurous musical choices, hooky choruses and Tillman’s fine vocals and harmonies. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is a stripped-down, enigmatic rocker, and “Only Son of the Ladiesman” is a comic/tragic account of a Hollywood lothario and perhaps a look into Misty’s own future, full of satisfying Tom Petty-ish strums and an aching melody delivered with gallows humor bravado a la Leonard Cohen. “I’m a steady hand/I’m a Dodgers fan/I’m a leading brand/I’m a one night stand/I’m a ladies man.”
There are also a few tunes on Fear Fun that feel tossed off, insubstantial. “I’m Writing A Novel,” and “Well, You Can Do It Without Me” in particular, feel more like genre exercises than fully fleshed-out songs. “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” is earnest, but pedantic.
On the album closer, “Everyman Needs A Companion,” Tillman relates the story of his transformation: “Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones/Couldn’t give me a myth/So I had to write my own/I got hung up on religion/Though I know it’s a waste/I never liked the name Joshua/I got tired of ‘J’.”
However he got here, the new identity Tillman created is clearly liberating for him and his writing. Let’s see if the good father will stick around for a second effort.