At about the three-quarter mark of the slow-burning closing track of Father John Misty’s “debut” album, Fear Fun, our protagonist croons, “Joseph Campbell/ and the Rolling Stones/ couldn’t give me a myth/ so I had to write my own/ Now I got hung up on religion/ though I know it’s a waste/ I never liked the name Joshua/ I got tired of J..” Supported by a down-tempo tambourine and mellow piano lines, Father John Misty seems to exude an ideological temperament similar to that in Neil Young’s (unfortunately orchestrated) Harvest classic, “A Man Needs a Maid,” — he’s disillusioned by life’s current conventions, and feels a claustrophobic inability to escape what has become the day-to-day grind. But, where Neil laments how “It’s hard to make that change/ when life and love turns strange,” Father John Misty chooses to shirk any perceived responsibilities, reinvent himself, his artistic ethos, and find the means to make that change… before it’s too late.
By now, at least a bit of Father John’s backstory has entered the blogosphere’s collective conscious — former Fleet Foxes drummer and solo performer, J. Tillman quits the Foxes, buys “enough mushrooms to choke a horse” (his words, not mine), does some soul-searching, and finds himself holed up in Laurel Canyon. At this point in the narrative, it’s far too easy to imagine Father John Misty as a Sasquatch-like, Southern Californian urban legend: a bearded man well versed in the shamanic ways, spacey, and a bit too eager to get in on some of your mushrooms. Fortunately for the throngs, this story leads not only to an immensely talented musician resisting monotony in favor of personal catharsis, but also to an artist finding fruition, and composing one of the most refreshingly honest records of the past ten years. Hyperbolic? Perhaps a bit — especially considering this album has been out for a whopping seven days — but in a world where it’s perfectly normal for Chris Brown to guest on a Rihanna song, transparency is key.
As for the music itself, Fear Fun, is full of absurdities. From the Willie Nelson style country honk of “Tee Pees 1-12” to the gritty “Jesus Christ, girl[s]” of the Aubrey Plaza certified “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” Mr. Misty does not hold back. These twelve tracks are full, they’re self-aware, they’re straight up funny, and it’s these traits that immediately separate Father John Misty’s folk-rock from what Fleet Foxes do. At first listen, it might seem easy to pigeonhole Father John Misty into the same brand of dreamy folk-rock championed by his former band, but where Fleet Foxes rely on bombast and drama to cultivate an identity, Father John Misty simply says fuck it; crafting a distinct mythos is his forte. On “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” Father John Misty takes on the persona of the rightful heir to the throne of his “ancient hero of the Sunset Strip,” swearing “that man was womankind’s first husband,” with the bravado of someone with the weight to fill the shoes of a man who just knows women.
That’s the great thing about Father John Misty — he doesn’t need to embody one single attitude because his urge to self-mythologize exudes hilarity and sincerity instead of the pretention and modernity from which he’s escaped. The lyrical highpoint of this album also perfectly encompasses the type of openness that is important to Father John Misty, as his disco-embracing, falsetto-fueled tune, “Nancy From Now On” starts with what could very well end up being one of the best opening lines I’ve ever heard: “pour me another drink/ punch me in the face/ you can call me Nancy.” Dig in.