By Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)
In 2017, the time when artists are judged for their music as much as their ability to get people talking, Father John Misty is an absolute gem. The former Fleet Fox (real name Josh Tillman) is one of the biggest personalities in music today and divides opinion across the board due to his trademark sarcasm and his boldness, never afraid to come out with a big quote or 10.
However, while his personality (or public persona) is comparable to marmite; his music is more like a great pizza, as the vast majority agree it’s really fucking good, and those who disagree probably just hate fun. Josh Tillman has released 3 studio records under the Misty moniker – 2012’s druggy Fear Fun, 2015’s larger-than-life I Love You, Honeybear and most recently, 2017’s existential Pure Comedy. With Tillman currently on the biggest headline tour of his life and promising his 4th Misty LP early next year, now seems as good a time as ever to rank his 10 best tracks so far.
Easily the most ambitious track in the Misty discography – Leaving LA is a self-described “10 verse, chorus-less diatribe” which clocks in at just over 13 minutes and hears Tillman at his most confessional – almost systematically running through his life and laying himself and all his shortcomings bare, while still weaving his notorious irony and wit throughout. The beautiful string score behind the acoustic guitar is what really holds the track together and justifies its mammoth length – providing the perfect bed for the hyper-personal lyrics dating back to the first memory Tillman has of music – choking on a sweet soundtracked by Sweet Little Lies by Fleetwood Mac.
I’m Writing a Novel
The highlight from 2012’s Fear Fun comes from a very different place of self-reflection. I’m Writing a Novel details the true story of Tillman’s moving to Laurel Canyon and experiences with heavy psychedelics before waking up naked under a tree and having the epiphany to rebrand himself as Father John Misty. Stupid? Absolutely, but Novel is almost undoubtedly the most fun track Tillman has ever written. As with much of the debut, the track has a distinctly country feel to it and the almost laugh-out-loud lyrics make it a perfect introduction to the bizarre persona and world of Father John Misty.
Real Love Baby
The reverb-laden Real Love Baby was released as a standalone single between I Love You, Honeybear and Pure Comedy, and has since proved to be the biggest red herring Tillman has ever thrown to fans and critics. Real Love Baby is demo-like and simplistic but is unashamedly a big brash love song. Tillman’s resonant delivery of lyrics like “I’m a flower, you’re my bee / it’s much older than you and me” makes this track arguably cheesier than anything from his Honeybear record, so understandably, people began assuming Father John Misty would become a vehicle for Tillman’s overblown love songs, however, these assumptions were thrown to the wayside when the world-weary Pure Comedy dropped in 2017.
The Ideal Husband
Even taking the straight-up weirdness of Novel into account, The Ideal Husband is undoubtedly the most bat-shit crazy track in the FJM discography. If anyone was ever to doubt this, all they should do is watch a live version and see how much Tillman flails himself around in the second half of this track. It’s undoubtedly his heaviest, built on a groove which just never seems to let up from the moment it kicks in, which serves as a perfect marriage to some of Tillman’s most entertaining lyrics – listing various less than desirable traits (“telling people jokes to shut them up”) before the track reaches a musical and lyrical climax with Tillman howling “let’s put a baby in the oven / wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?”
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
Sandwiched right in the middle of I Love You, Honeybear, Thirsty Crow exemplifies almost the entire “point” of the record. It’s not just a record of cheesy love songs, and throughout the record’s 12 tracks, Tillman also covers the less desirable aspects of love and the traps we all fall into. On top of Thirsty Crow’s Western-influenced instrumental (just listen to that lead guitar) Tillman sings about living on tour and leaving his wife Emma at home, descending into objectification and jealousy in the first half of the track before it explodes into life and Tillman begins threatening people approaching his wife “you may think like an animal / but if you try that cat-and-mouse shit, you’ll get bitten/keep moving”. Ouch.
So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain
The penultimate track on Pure Comedy, heavily based on Thomas Mann’s novel “The Magic Mountain”, may just be the most heartbreaking track Tillman has ever committed to tape. The instrumental is disarmingly simple, consisting of just acoustic guitar and piano whilst Tillman seems to simultaneously fight with and regretfully accept the fact he is aging. The lyrics then fade and leave a beautiful 4-minute outro, punctuated by horns and what sounds like a choir, as if to let the listener grapple with what may be the most poignant lyrics of Tillman’s career so far.
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
While Honeybear as a record concerns itself with far more than just the traditional depiction of love, on Chateau Lobby, Tillman abandons that and allows himself to unashamedly write a love song. However, this is a Father John Misty track, so does anything but fall into the pool of every other singer-songwriter love song. Chateau Lobby feels euphoric, with Tillman’s acoustic backed up by a mariachi band as he gushes over his wife Emma, flipping the idea of virginity in the process, calling himself and his wife virgins as they have never been in love as profoundly as they are with each other. Extra wholesome points for ending on the heartwarming “what are you doing with your whole life? How about forever?”
I Love You, Honeybear
The title track of Father John Misty’s second record sets big expectations for itself with the sheer brashness of the title. Thankfully, it exceeds all comfortably. Honeybear has perhaps the most grandiose score in the Misty discography, and Tillman is not at all overwhelmed, shrieking “honeybear, honeybear, honeybear, oooh” from the track’s inception. Lyrically, this track wanders almost everywhere. It’s obviously a big overblown love song (Tillman swears the use of “honeybear” is ironic) but the drama of the score is matched by some incredibly apocalyptic lyrics which are never afraid to be sexual – and both worlds converge brilliantly in the lines “you’re bent over the altar / and the neighbours are complaining / that the misanthropes next door are probably conceiving a Damien”.
As proven on Honeybear, when Tillman writes a title track for a Misty record, it’s normally very good, to say the least. Almost undoubtedly the greatest track on the record of the same name, Pure Comedy is cynical in the extreme, where Tillman enters social commentary mode and criticises humanity over solemn piano chords – starting from the fact that babies are born with half-formed brains before critiquing everything from democracy to religion. The chorus describes these failings are “pure comedy”, and by the time the track reaches its peak and the piano is joined by what sounds like every horn under the sun, Tillman shrieks “it’s like something that a madman would conceive!”.
According to Tillman, Holy Shit was written on his wedding day and is named after the first words he said after getting married. The track is another one of the simpler Father John Misty tracks, where the first half is carried by just an acoustic guitar and Tillman’s vocal before everything changes at the 2-minute mark. Violins play into a key change, where the second half of the track feels weightless and soars into the air, supported by another choir. In almost every line of this rack, Tillman places 2 opposing ideas beside each other to create a juxtaposition. However, it isn’t until the final couplet when all these ideas come together in an epiphany: “maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity / but what I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me”.