“Father John Misty” is the musical moniker of Josh Tilman.
Until recently he was the drummer for beardy folk-revivalists the
Fleet Foxes.
Throughout his tenure with the Seattle band, Tilman released
seven full-length CDs and three EPs, but they were sparse solo affairs.
“Fun Fear” marks not only Tilman’s relocation to Los Angeles, but also
his first collaboration with other musicians.
Co-produced by Laurel Canyon wunderkind, Jonathan Wilson,
“Fun Fear” has expanded Tilman’s sonic palette.
Los Angeles is the obvious muse here, beginning with the opening
track, “Fun Times In Babylon.” Tilman’s vocals pivot between angelic and
mournful, floating over the dense instrumentation of upright bass, piano,
guitar and fluttery mandolins. “Look out Hollywood, here I come!”
Both “I’m Writing A Novel” and “Misty Nightmares 1 & 2” echo
the stream-of-conscious rambles that Bob Dylan perfected at the start of
his “electric” period. (Think “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”).
Powered by Farfisa organ and boogie-woogie piano, “I’m Writing
A Novel” is part shaggy dog story and part sly commentary. In the midst of a
string of non-sequiters, Tilman name-checks everyone from Heideger and
Satre to Neil Young!
On “Misty Nightmares 1 & 2,” Tilman’s high-lonesome vocals
are cushioned by a chugging rhythm and smoky guitar riffs.
Tilman is at his Fleet Foxy-est on “Oh I Long To Feel Your Arms
Around Me.” Here he drops the veil of ironic distance, cloaking his plea for
intimacy in hushed “Pet Sounds” harmonies.
Tilman’s love/hate honeymoon with Los Angeles is exemplified
on two songs, “Nancy From Now On” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetary
On the former, sweet synths, galloping beat and lush vocals owe a debt
to late 70s Fleetwood Mac. J.T. seems besotted: “How was I to know that milk
and honey flowed/ Just a couple states below.”
On the latter, we find a somewhat jaded Tilman frolicking romantically
in the infamous L.A. landmark. Distorted, almost grungy guitar chords compete
with layered vocals and Tilman’s deadpan lyrics…. “You kiss on me, but we
should let this dead guy sleep.”
Tilman mines a vartiety of musical genres on “Fear Fun.”
“Only Son Of A Ladies Man” recalls the California Cowboy sound of the
Flying Burrito Brothers. The arrangement on “This Is Sally Hatchet” shifts on
the swirling maelstrom of strings and harpsichord. Obviously the Beatles’
“I Am The Walrus” was a huge influence.
The most ambitious track here is the plaintive “Now I Am Learning To
Love The War.” Over spare instrumentation, Tilman tries to reconcile
his need for artistic expression with the reality that manufacturing music
is hurtful to the environment:
“Try not to think so much about the truly staggering amount of oil
That it takes to make a record/ All the shipping the vinyl the cellophane
lining/The high gloss the tape and the gear.”
How does a musician make an artistic imprint without leaving
a carbon footprint? There’s no easy answer.
The final two tracks of “Fear Fun” offer even
more diversity. Propelled by sweet, pedal steel guitar
licks and a barn dance fiddle, “Tee Pees 1-12” weds an
an apocryphal tale of an exhibitionist girlfriend to a rollicking
hoedown melody.
On the shambolic closer, “Everyman Needs A
Companion,” Tilman pulls out all the stops. The ramshackle
rhythm feels like a faint homage to Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women
#12 & 35.” The lyrics are an honest plea for companionship
but, Tilman can’t resist this smarty-pants declaration:
“Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones couldn’t give me
a myth/So I had to write my own.”
On his initial solo efforts, Josh Tilman plumbed
quiet intimacies and dark corners like a Film Noir detective.
As Father John Misty , “Fear Fun” feels like a burst of Technicolor
in a black and white world.