“Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity” sings Josh Tillman on the track “Holy Shit”. It’s this sort of wit and honesty that has made Tillman a.k.a. Father John Misty such an interesting character in the indie folk genre since his 2012 debut Fear Fun. Tillman’s musical and lyrical skills are on full display on his latest project, I Love You, Honeybear, with this release seeing improving upon the sound of his previous work as well as bringing in more layered instrumentation and far more intriguing lyrics.
The album begins with the sweeping Americana-tinged title track, featuring Tillman’s signature harmonized vocals and cinematic strings. It seems to pick up right where his debut left off as well as perfectly setting the stage thematically for the course of the album. Honeybear is undoubtedly a tribute to Tillman’s wife Emma Elizabeth Tillman, but it’s also a poignant commentary on love in the 21st century. It’s this dichotomy of sincere, lovely pieces braced against Tillman’s sarcastic, dark humor that makes Honeybear such an excellent album.
The following song, “Chateau Lobby #4” is a particularly interesting and catchy piece, mixing traditional rockabilly instrumentation with mariachi flavored brass. The album’s biggest departure from Tillman’s usual style is the third track “True Affection”, which is a lively, electronic song that while being undeniably catchy, feels rather out of place on the album. It’s not a major detraction from the album, but it does break up the holistic soundscape that the album begins with and reverts back to after this track.
This is not to say that Honeybear lacks variation. Nearly every track has a distinct feel and style. “When Your Smiling and Astride Me” is a beautiful soul track, complete with female backing vocals and whirling organs. The song “The Ideal Husband” feels like a garage rock tune with a hint of country, similar to Jack White’s recent work. This track paints a hilarious picture of the complete opposite of an “ideal husband”, and serves as a perfect contrast to the following track “Bored in the USA”, which is the album’s true climax and best track. The song begins as a somber piano ballad, seeing Tillman reflect on how marriage is viewed in today’s culture. “Oh good the stranger’s body’s still here, our arrangement hasn’t changed” sings Tillman. Strings enter the track as Tillman delivers some of his most humorous yet bitter lyrics on the album. “They gave me a useless education, and a sub-prime loan on a craftsman home”. His lyrics are accompanied with a laugh track, complementing his over-the-top social commentary, yet as the listener, you feel very far from laughing, possibly because Tillman is actually right in a way.
However, Honeybear is far from a bitter album, and for every darker track, there is a beautiful, love ballad to contrast it. The album’s closer “I Went to the Store One Day” tells the story of how Tillman met his wife, but also shows the singer in a very honest, emotional state as he expresses his flaws and shortcomings as a husband. It’s a somber piece and perhaps the most lovely track on the album instrumentally, featuring a quietly picked guitar, sweeping violin, and the occasional mandolin. The track doesn’t need bombastic instrumentation to provide such a distinct portrait of Tillman, and uses its minimalism to its advantage.
Josh Tillman has truly outdone himself with Honeybear and will hopefully continue his creative streak for years to come. In the meantime, us fans will have plenty of time to bask in the beautifully melodies and lush instrumentals as well as time to ponder Tillman’s dense lyrical content. Honeybear is an album that gets better with every listen and is so enjoyable that it will keep listeners coming back for more.
Standout Tracks: “Bored in the USA”, “I Went to the Store One Day”, “I Love You, Honeybear”, “Chateau Lobby #4”