I Love You, Honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear

Josh Tillman had pursued introspective solo work as J. Tillman, and even drummed for Fleet Foxes before debuting his Father John Misty guise on 2012’s Fear Fun. But the great acclaim he enjoyed for that record’s blend of scathing humor and flowing folk arrangements meant that FJM would not be some one-and-done fluke. On this career-high 2015 follow-up, Tillman untangles and exaggerates his sordid personal history—including his relationship with his wife, photographer Emma Elizabeth Garr. Reuniting with Fear Fun producer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson, the self-aware troubadour combines a Randy Newman-esque ear for satire with a growing appreciation for grand string arrangements. On the opening title track, he sings a harmony-laden devotional to Garr that includes a cheeky reference to “the Rorschach sheets where we make love” and assorted lusty sessions as “the global market collapses” and other signs of imminent doom unfold in the backdrop. In an effort to avoid sentimentality and create some distance from his real life, Tillman saddles many of these songs with knowing layers of artifice. “Bored in the USA” includes a burst of canned laughter, while “True Affection” couches any earnestness in warm swathes of synth and drum machine. Even inserting himself into the song title on “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.,” he then rattles off all the things he hates about a fleeting love interest. “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” continues the opening track’s casual oversharing, complete with sex in the kitchen while Garr wears a “wedding dress someone was probably murdered in.” But for all of that unreliable narration, this record is also strangely relatable as a checkered document of true love. And musically it proves absorbing at every turn, with several moments where the lavish orchestration subsides and Tillman taps back into the reverbed folk rock of his recent musical past. That includes the closing “I Went to the Store One Day,” a ballad hushed and wide-open enough to cozily evoke Fleet Foxes. Tillman would continue to develop the grotesquely charming Father John Misty character from here, achieving fame well outside the usual purview of indie rock. Subsequent years would see him collaborate with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Lana Del Rey, introducing his subversive streak to a wider audience than he could have dreamed imaginable in 2015.

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