Fear Fun – Father John Misty
The old joke goes – what do you call someone who hangs around musician. A drummer (boom, boom). Being the sticks man for the fey pseudo hippy ensemble that was the Fleet Foxes could not have been a barrel of laughs and it is no surprise that Josh Tillman packed it all in and set off in a camper van, filled with magic mushrooms, from Seattle to California to find himself.
This album, released in 2012 – I know but it is hard to be on trend across all art forms – is the result of this journey of self-discovery.
For those of us who mourn the passing of album cover art, the CD sleeve is a joy to behold with a cartoon-style representation of a transcendentally blissed out Hindu god who, presumably is the Father, and his various acolytes. The disc itself is a series, from the innermost ring, of concentric circles in pink, black, red, pale blue and pastel yellow. It made me almost yearn for one of those players with a transparent cover as I’m sure the sight of it whizzing round would induce an appropriately meditative state.
So much for the packaging, what about the content? If you were to characterise the Foxes’ sound – I liked their two albums in small measures – it would be harmonies, an easy-going, nay almost laid-back, tempo and gorgeous arrangements. The opening track of Fear Fun, Funtimes in Babylon, has all of that – Tillman hits the high notes with consummate precision – but the immediate impression is one of passion and directness, something you would struggle to find in the Foxes’ work.
For me the final track, Everyman needs a companion, is the stand-out number. It is intensely personal documenting the journey of a man who has wrestled his demons and set out on a new course. It is raw, emotional and stunning.
As you would expect for a man who has consumed so many ‘rooms, there is a strain of psychedelia working through his music, particularly in the hallucinatory I’m writing a novel. There is also a wicked seam of humour inherent in his work and many a phrase which lingers long in the memory. I particularly liked the couplet, “when it’s my time to go/ Gonna leave behind things that won’t decompose” (Now I’m learning to love the war). The most electric and rock-oriented track, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, has a dark vein of humour running through it that transforms a funereal stomp into a vibrant number.
There is a tendency to want to categorise artists these days and whilst Tillman tips his hat to American country-folk there are wider influences at work including, perhaps, early Dylan and the Beatles of the Sergeant Pepper era, particularly in This is Sally Hatchet. What is very clear is if you listen to the album straight through with the tracks in the order that they have been cut in – a rarity these days, I know, with shuffle features – you will detect very careful consideration of the running order with tracks complementing and, on times, directly contrasting with their immediate predecessor. As with the artwork a lot of thought and love has gone into making this.
His 2015 release, I Love You Honeybear, is said to be better still and I look forward to listening to that. In the meantime, this Father John Misty album is a welcome addition to my music collection.