Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty has made quite a splash over the past decade, becoming somewhat of an indie darling and establishing himself not only as a fantastic songwriter, but also as one of the most witty and sardonic voices in the current musical landscape. So far, he has produced four incredibly entertaining full-length releases under that moniker, each worthy of a retroactive swooning session. Today, though, we’re taking it all the way back to 2012 and his début album Fear Fun. Read on to find out what EIN members Jake and Ashley have to say about the songs that started Mr. Tillman’s journey as Father John Misty.
Fear Fun was the first time Josh Tillman took on the alter-ego of Father John Misty, and the pseudonym would suit him well for four albums and into the present day. Well, that’s my level of expertise regarding the affairs of Mr. Tillman fully laid out. It looks as though Father John Misty‘s songs are liked by millions. What did I miss?
I figured it would just be better if I was honest about my ignorance on the matter. So despite the album being in existence since 2012, I’ve only just had the pleasure of hearing Fear Fun. During my all-too-recent sampling, the album’s most blatant traits hit me first. By large it sounded like it was forged in the realms of expressive 60’s rock‘n’roll, featuring distinct licks of country spliced with The Beatles, and so on, so forth. I gathered Fear Fun to be very much an out-of-time record, and also extremely proud of that fact. There’s a lot going on.
On further listens, I managed to gain the full weight of its substance, understanding that it contained a hearty quantity of soul, and more than its fair share of surprises. Each song is very much an island of its own. Introspective serenading with an acute sense of dreaminess will have you floating on a proverbial cloud during the album’s opening act, and the bouncy boogies of later songs will keep your energy levels high throughout. Along the way, there is enough substance to ensure that the emotion comes at you with a little more clout by the time we reach the latter segments.
I think my favourite moments of the album were the epic examples of key-surfing which Tillman seems wonderfully adept at, most notable on tracks such as “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “This is Sally Hatchet”. In these moments, it seems that his artistry very much comes into his own. Whilst many of the tracks on Fear Fun serve as a slick homage to some renowned and hard-to-emulate classics, the aforementioned tunes are the ones which may well, in turn, plant a tree of influence nurtured by Tillman himself. As with his many other musical projects, waves have already been made.
Equally striking is the poetry within the lyrics. I’ll reference “Well, You Can Do it Without Me” as just one example of this. Though by large Fear Fun represents a fairly introspective experience, it’s hard not to relate to the content on some level, or in some avenue. Tillman appears to present himself as a product, or more specifically the product of Father John Misty. As this persona shows itself to be an open book, it’s probably safe to assume that loving listeners can mould the man, and the myth, into their own personal image and interpretation, such is the way with all good art. As history states, Tillman is the real deal. I see that now.
I love this record. There, I said it. But I also plan to use another 500 words or so to say the same thing. I recall pretty much exactly where I was when I heard “Fun Times in Babylon” for the first time. The sardonic wit, the wry charm, and that now-trademark dry humor. I loved everything about what I was hearing and immediately bought the album. It was then that I learned that this first song that I heard was only the tiniest sampling of what makes Father John Misty great. As the album unfolds in tales of reckless self destruction, it became clear that they were powered by an endless supply of self-deprecating humor. And humor is tough. If there is a genre that serves a sharp tongue and a twinkle in the eye, it’s folk. Josh Tillman – FJM’s alter ego – was smart enough to know that and created this act as a way to express his unique observations.
“Nancy From Now On” is a fine example of this. My love of this song also spawned my nickname of ‘Nancy’ here at Everything Is Noise for nearly three years. One of my absolute favorite tricks that a songwriter can employ is just writing a great first line (see Lana Del Ray’s “Norman fucking Rockwell”), and FJM managed to do this on an incredible number of Fear Fun’s twelve tracks. The aforementioned “Nancy From Now On” is a great example, but a catchier one would be the stellar “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”:
‘Jesus Christ girl/What are people going to think/When I show up to one of several funerals I’ve attended for grandpa this week.’
If we’re going to talk about funny songs though, “I’m Writing a Novel” steals that crown, and to this day is a track that will bring at the very least a smile to my face if not a full-on laugh. It’s a hilarious rock song that serves as a hilarious send-up of pop psychology, philosophy, and the general pretentiousness of literature as a guide for life. It’s also just outrageously funny: ‘We could do ayahuasca/ Baby, if I wasn’t holding all these drinks.’ The laughs don’t preclude Fear Fun from being heartfelt either. “O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me” and “Every Man Needs a Companion” venture into ballad territory with massive walls of vocal harmonies, which Tillman no doubt carried over from his time in Fleet Foxes.
There are a variety of moods on the album, ranging from cheeky to reflective. While the transitions between moods can be jarring at times, it honestly feels like the point. Fear Fun is the first record under this moniker for Tillman, and it feels like a bursting dam of creative energy, emotions, and brilliance. While his critical acclaim seems to increase with each subsequent release, this whimsical first step into the world of Father John Misty will always be my favorite.
What are your thoughts on/experiences with Fear Fun? Are you a fan of Father John Misty, and if so, what’s your favorite album of his? Do you have any records you’d like to recommend for inclusion in A Scene In Retrospect? Leave it all in the comments if you feel like sharing!