Commentary by Alex Hodges, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor
The origin story of Father John Misty is one based on ego, psychedelics and self-discovery. I do not know anything about tripping on mushrooms in the forest for days at a time, but evidently it has some merit. To conclude one such happening, Josh Tillman had a cathartic awakening that became his existence as “Father John Misty.”
Tillman has been involved with countless musical projects throughout his career since 2004. In 2008, he joined the Fleet Foxes as their drummer and since then has both assumed a new persona and produced several albums of his own under the names of J. Tillman and Father John Misty.
His recent album “God’s Favorite Customer,” which was released on the first of June last year, received positive overall ratings and feedback from sources such as The Guardian, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. It held number one spots on both the U.S. Top Alternative album and U.S. Folk album lists on Billboard.
In Tillman’s 2015 album “I Love You, Honeybear,” he established a romantic bombast of love songs. “God’s Favorite Customer” is less of that, and more love songs without ornaments. He takes a perspective that looks up at the world, rather than down on it. The narrative he describes shows that he wants to do away with his ego, get out of his own head and be present for someone else.
This is Father John Misty in his evolved form. He has always had subtle political references, and he always cleverly poked fun at the advancement and, with it, devolution of society, such as in his song “Total Entertainment Forever.” This album, though, opens with a song in which the most powerful hook is “What’s your politics? What’s your religion?”
Tillman now writes less of what he knows and more of what he has learned. He seems to capture newborn emotion as he writes of what he, comparatively, now sees as a brighter world. He still writes about himself, but now it is more introspective. He is interrogative, apologetic and discovering.
In the ninth track of the album, “The Songwriter,” he sings to his wife, Emma, simultaneously with selfishness and selflessness, asking “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter and you made your living off of me? Would you detail your near constant consternation with the way my very presence makes your muses up and flee?”
The crux of the “new” Father John Misty and this album is one of balance and tension between believing in oneself and believing in others.
Musically, Tillman’s latest yields a variety of different sounds within the soft rock genre. He ranges from solo acoustic guitar, to piano, to full band arrangements all within only 38 minutes. With Tillman himself on drums and Jonathan Rado on bass, the soft rock experience is intensified. Such a tight rhythm section within as wide a dynamic range as this indie folk inspired artist puts out is demonstrative of the attention to details in the instrumentation through all 10 songs.
Tillman has the vowels of Elton John and some melodic inflections of Layne Staley. His harmonies are tight, but they are open and freeing, leaving listeners with a sense of moving through open space while carefully observing every detail as it passes.
I agree with Senior Editor of Pitchfork Jeremy D. Larson, who said in reference to Tillman that “he strolls through his own songs like a melancholy king finding every opportunity to catch his reflection.”
Whether or not you enjoy expressive soft rock tunes, give this album a listen. Not only does it explore some interesting musical ideas, but it means something, and it is not just another stupid, overproduced, surface-level breakup album.