Josh Tillman, or rather Father John Misty, has garnered a notorious reputation over the years, and this reputation has only grown as of recent—there’s no point in denying that. Whether it was launching his faux-stripped of artistry-midi version of this album, or performing new tracks around New York City with a karaoke machine, he’s developed a sarcastic and cynical side to his infamous hip shaking and suave performance style. I Love You, Honeybear is the musical counterpart to this performative transformation, and our reaction mirrors that of our reaction to his publicity shenanigan; that is to say we are simultaneously with and against Father John Misty in his battle with sincerity versus cynicism in the 21st century.
It was the best of times, it was the not so best of times: the tracks on here range a great deal in their merit as they traverse the genre of pop folk with hyper clear production. In some of the numbers on here, Father John Misty’s lyrics are apt and brilliant, describing the perilous plight he faces with quick quips and with colloquially deep storytelling. These lyrics, the heart of the album, are often accompanied by sweeping musical arrangements that will make your skin crawl with goosebumps. The strings are often the perfect counterpart to his words, demonstrating his talent for creating drama and emotionally moving pop music.
But on a few tracks on this album, things don’t quite add together as eloquently and neatly as the rest of I Love You, Honeybear. Particularly numbers like “True Affection,” or “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” seem to be flattened by the production, the very soul of the music stamped out by the desire to maintain an ironical distance between artist and substance.
These, of course, are overwhelmingly overpowered by those completely wonderful songs, of which I could go on about for days. There’s each of the singles that we were tantalized with before the rest of the songs were revealed, like hitting-the-nail-on-the-head “Bored In The USA,” or the title track, which comes equipped with lines like “The future can’t be real/ I barely know how long a moment is/ unless we’re naked, getting high.” Then you have some completely surprise numbers that take you by storm. “Ideal Husband,” is the most rambunctious tune you’ll find on the album, with a full on melt down from our fearless blasé leader. But Father John is at his best with “Holy Shit,” which feels stripped and sincere, as he weighs love with a long list of the things that make up our own absurd reality: “Oh and no one ever knows the real you and life is brief/ So I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this atom bomb and me?” It is the moments like this number that make me want to give this album 5 stars.
On first listen of this album, I was completely enamored with what Father John Misty had crafted, and with good reason: musically, it’s easy on the ears with its lush and gorgeous sound. However, after several rounds through, some of the tracks simply don’t have the same amount of sweeping power that the majority of the tracks do. Perhaps these other songs’ staying enchantment will kick in over time, but for now I Love You, Honeybear is a rather valiant effort at depicting love in our modern times in which the highs outweigh the lows.