Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear: The Art of the Album
Father John Misty’s Wikipedia page details a story that runs closer to a Terry Gilliam film than an actual backstory. As the son of two missionaries, Josh Tillman was predetermined to a life that focused on, and was restricted to, spirituality, to a point where the only music he was able to listen to that which was considered “religious.” Although this censorship significantly confined his musical exposure, it served as a pathway to becoming acquainted with one artist who was both religious and musically satisfying; Bob Dylan.
Father John Misty previously operated under the name of J. Tillman, a solo artist who produced melancholic folk masterpieces, invoking the same imagery and sounds that Bob Dylan had once imparted on him. J. Tillman’s lyrical and musical talent wasn’t only confined to his solo career, as his assistance can be documented across multiple genres of music, most notably as a drummer and vocalist for Fleet Foxes and as a lyricist for artists in the likes of Beyoncé, Kid Cudi, and Lady Gaga. Josh Tillman was living a prominent life until his full revitalization of his image. Faced with an existential crises laced with creative frustration and the absence of self-fulfillment, Tillman tore off his former identity (quite literally, as on a hike in the woods of Seattle, he began to shed his clothes as the result of a mental breakdown that had transpired.) This was not a point of desolation for Tillman, however, as it would mark the rebirth of his new self, a new self that would face disappointment head on, “identifying” with these disappointments, as he said, and beginning his transformation as Father John Misty.
After releasing a critically and commercially successful album, Fear Fun, Father John Misty released I Love You, Honeybear in 2015. I Love You, Honeybear featured a distinct style, both artistically and thematically, that had never been exhibited in his previous works, both as J. Tillman and as FJM. As a possible side effect of his recent marriage, I Love You, Honeybear is a focus on the ever changing manifestations of love and mankinds innate struggle for companionship. In terms of the music itself, FJM trades the country-rock infusion in which he previously delighted in for a more vibrant orchestral sound, a sound he had experimented with in the former album with songs like “Funtimes in Babylon” and “Now I’m Learning to Love the War.” As a result of this trade, I Love You, Honeybear serves as a tasteful swell of trumpets, piano, strings, and true emotions.
What distinguishes Father John Misty’s works from other contemporary singers is his full utilization of the album as a medium. In the age of streams, artists now compete not to distribute ample quantities of albums, but rather achieve the most clicks on a single song. Many popular artists recognize this, and exploit it, with artist like Drake and Chris Brown producing albums with upwards of 25 songs, not in hopes that their albums will be appreciated in one sitting, but rather individual enjoyment, as revenue is grossed with every click. Spotify reports that over the last 5 years, the duration of the top 5 steaming albums have increased an average of 10 minutes. Due to the way clicks generate revenue, producers, in a fashion that is no stranger to the music business, have found and maximized the looseness of a loop hole. Chris Brown’s 45 song conglomeration was certified gold in less than 10 days, despite not a single song breaking into the Billboards top 40. What is lost in this distasteful consumer-driven approach to art is the lack of an album serving as a unified study or expression of a certain ideology or belief. Artists like LCD Soundsystem have attempted to combat this new perspective on music with albums like 45:33, an album that, despite its inclusion of only 4 songs, runs for 1 hour and 11 minutes, with one song having a play time of 46 minutes, to ensure that it would be appreciated in one sitting.
I Love You, Honeybear begins with a song by the same name that serves as an outline of the subject in which Mr. Tillman will be delving into for the next 44 minutes; love and all of its daunting, extravagant, paradoxical, alluring, and damning manifestations. To analyze this mosaic, the listener should take note of the ebb and flow within the album itself, as certain songs and perceptions within the song are fused together in an almost chronological order, juxtaposed to the songs that cover a different facet of love, a contradictory facet at that. These “contradictory” facets do not illegitimatize each other, on the contrary; They serve as the ideal complements. The first song of the album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” talks of the power of love and its ability to dilute the outside pressures found in todays political and social climates. It also explores the functionality of companionship as a means of exonerating us from our own psychological and emotional baggage as we compromise and collectivize. Continuing the trend of exoneration, Chateau Lobby #4 details in up-beat grandeur the refreshing nature of meeting someone who revitalizes both your expectancies on your life’s progression and your existing perception of human kind, itself. Chateau Lobby’s rustic melody of piano, strings and trumpets serve as the backdrop to Father John Misty’s tale of the divine innocence and rekindlement of romantic optimism that is associated with meeting someone who, to give in to the immense weight of cliches, could very well be your “soul mate.” A message of this caliber would naturally fall at the end of the album, imparting a message on the audience of how absurdly close the antidote to all of your romantic qualms truly is. However, the song is placed as the second song on the album. What follows is a grim techno based song, using the synthetic sounds that very seldom make appearances in Misty’s work to perpetuate the imagery that the song explores; the frustration and aspiration of love in a technological age of “strange devices.” Is this sympathetic longing an attribute of the same relationship from Chateau Lobby or is it a unique relationship within itself? In reality, it’s both, simultaneously. These quick transitions from ethereal pleasure to dismal exasperation don’t express different stories of being in love, but the story of love itself.