Friday Album Portrait – Father John Misty’s “Fear Fun”

Fleet Foxes is a polarizing band amongst  many indieheads (when I spellcheck indiehead it recommends ‘snakehead’) and audiophiles… some can’t get enough of their choral harmonies, the folksy atmosphere, their layered song meanings and musicianship while others are detracted by their glaring NorthWest connection & associated attitudes, Newsweek’s Song of the Year nod for ‘White Winter Hymnal,’ a Rolling Stone interview entitled “Fleet Foxes Get Existential on their Second Album”… Pitchfork loves them, so I tend to grow weary. This past week, however, I was brought into contact with what I consider to be one of the best singer/songwriter albums of the year (fuck off Cat Power), and it just so happens the offering came from a now ex-member of Fleet Foxes, a Mr. Joshua Tillman. Apparently he has his qualms with the band too…“I had this moment of clarity. At some point you reach an impasse in your life which becomes either mobilising or immobilizing. I was at the end of one of those long arcs of depression, which became so ingrained I wasn’t aware of how functionally unhappy I was. It had reached critical mass and I released something had gone terribly wrong and I had to get out.”  I couldn’t be happier that he got out because under the moniker Father John Misty, Tillman serves up one hell of a hootenanny with Fear Fun.

On his inspiration for the album, Tillman explained, “I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice…. It was a while before that voice started manifesting in a musical way, but once I settled in the Laurel Canyon spider-shack where I’m living now, I spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences almost in real-time…” Not surprisingly one of my favorite songs, ‘I’m Writing a Novel,’ describes his experience in a more round about sort of way with the help of a ghost-faded organ line reminiscent of Ray Manzarek and a guitar riff that sounds like the missing link between country and rock… 50’s and sexy and revved up on benzedrine.

Tillman ended one of the interviews I read with a “This album has some fucking soul,” and he’s right.  ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtOToiIDNRA ) is anthemic, it’s desperate, it thumps right along the chakra lines… he cries out “Someone’s got to help me dig!” and as your feet stomp and hands clap you search the room for a spade… his last verse is a brilliant moment of confusion and ennui, a perfect blend of humor and honesty and love in the 21st Century…

I laid up for hours in a daze
Retracing the expanse of your American back
With Adderall and weed in my veins
You came
I think
Cause the marble made my cheeks look pink
But I’m unsure of so many things
 
 The album seems to center around LA, as an urban metaphor and also literally as almost every song has a California reference point, but the topics addressed seem to kart-wheel from there…about growing older, about our need for companionship and real love (not just ego pampering), about being lost and concerned, and then not really worrying too much about it because being found might be an almost worse fate… what’s an adult anyways? We wear the same quirks, the same emotional tizzies and personality warpings that we dawned in childhood, except now we can vote and fuck and smoke cigarettes. If you’re not aware of your own insecurities, if you’re not alright in admitting you might be a little insane and not all that concrete… well in my experiences I’ve found the self-convinced to be the craziest ones out there. It’s important to have a little fun in spite of all the contradictions and fear and loathing and slow soul death…”We could do ayahuasca, baby if I wasn’t holding all these drinks.”
 
There are so many parallels to draw between Tillman’s work and other quality artists… most of the album runs alongside a Edward Sharpe hand-stomp-clap undercurrent that makes you feel like the recording was done either in a church choir loft or a paint-chipped porch in the middle of Savannah cooling off the mid-day sun. In ‘Only Son of the Ladies Man’ (awesome song title) he arranges the verses in a way that really connects to Arcade Fire’s ‘Sprawl II’ and proves just as catchy. There’s Tennessee bluegrass, there’s Neil Young scuzz, there’s hovering cathedral tones, there’s Mason Jenning’s lyrical savvy with the hippy-dippiness of Woods… it sounds old and new, strong but fragile… perfect for a dead-of-winter Midwestern bonfire, Uncle Ken passing around a gallon jug of Alex-Grey-skyway-blotter-spiked orange juice (if you catch this nod to Kesey, you’re on the right track), deer meat on the spigots… roasting.
 
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