Father John Misty is a rotten apple.
He seems so enticing until you put in just enough effort to break the skin. Then, you recoil from the bitter, mushy, rancid middle.
His birth name is Josh Tillman, and his style is grandiose folk singing. His songs would not be out of place on many people’s “Mountain Drive” playlist, and as long as you had the dial on half volume and were focused on the scenery, it would not be hard to be encouraged by his crooning voice and optimistic strings, chimes, and chords.
Crank up the volume a few notches, however, and a very different picture emerges. This has nothing to do with his music and everything to do with his lyrics.
Listen to his song, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apartment”
The song opens with a fun, simple melody introducing what could easily be a love song by the Avett Brothers, then, he opens his mouth and sings,
Oh I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man.
I mean like a goddamn marching band.
Rather than a love song, Father John Misty belts out an Anti-Love song. He is the master of biting sarcasm and alienation. In the song, he is complaining without reservation about his girlfriend and at himself, taking a cruel joy in his ability to feel superior even as he loathes himself for his own flaws. Brutally funny and bitter lines like,
She says she sounds just like Sarah Vaughn. I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on. Why don’t you move to the Delta?
are contrasted with others,
Lately I just can’t stop the wheels from spinning. I feel so unconvincing.
He knows it’s probably his fault things are falling apart between them, but that won’t make him apologize for the kind of person he’s been.
Much of his 2014 album I Love you HoneyBear, explores Tillman’s own petty, miserable state through a mix of inventive styles on the fringes of folk. “True affection” builds into a sweeping culmination as the artist bemoans the loss of real connection between himself and his lover. He sings,
I want to find somebody, not like this. I’m a decent person, a little aimless.
It’s a crystalline portrait of his desire for someone who will solve his petty, middle-class problems. Someone with drive who will convince him he is decent, despite his nagging belief that he is rotten to the soul.
The turn on the album happens on the last song, “I went to the store one day” chronicles the past, present, and future of Father John Misty’s new relationship with his wife of one year.
Say, do you want to get married?
Put an end to our endless progressive tendency to scorn?
Tillman met his wife in a grocery store parking lot, and approached her thinking she looked familiar. She obviously has quickly had a profound affect on Tillman’s life. After ten songs full of the restlessness brought on by his need to put others down to deal with his own crippling self-doubt, Father John Misty reveals he’s found someone to change him. He realizes just how strange this seems after the record he has just put forth to listeners. As the album ends, he still can’t quite get past his unserious style. He finishes with the lines.
Insert here, a sentiment Re: our golden years.
All cause I went to the store one day.
Seen you around, what’s your name?
That last line, recounting the first time meeting his wife, reveals the true nature of the record. It isn’t a jab at ex-lovers or a rant against the world’s cruelty. Instead, it is a longwinded, personal, thank you to the woman he still can’t believe he’s found.