Album Review: Father John Misty is reincarnated on I Love You, Honeybear

The sophomore album from Father John Misty––also known as Josh Tillman––sets out to answer some questions about FJM and why he chose to leave Fleet Foxes. Titled I Love You, Honeybear, the LP was released on Feb. 10. Whether the average Fleet Foxes fan would consider this new album an improvement or not, Tillman’s stripped-down authenticity allows him to express what Robin Pecknold would only ever express cryptically.

The very first lines of the album are, “Oh honeybear, honeybear, honeybear, mascara, blood, ash and come on the Rorschach sheets where we make love.” This line is an example of molding his folk-influenced authenticity into punk-derivative brutality.

Unlike punk, however, FJM’s music retains a polished baroque craft as a reminder of his beginnings. Songs like “Chateaux Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” and “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” feature numerous stringed instruments, which are commonly attributed to Tillman’s own indie-folk niche.

On the ironically titled “The Ideal Husband,” Tillman sings of bad habits and poor decisions in a somewhat classic-rock style; the speaker being capable and unafraid of self-reflection. Part of this, however, is revealed as a misdirected desire to change as he asks his girlfriend to put a “baby in the oven.”

“True Affection” is reminiscent of Animal Collective, representing new territory for Tillman. It weaves a tapestry of electronic samples underneath a playful vocal melody.

Through all of this, we know that Tillman isn’t losing himself to his new freedom because he still stays true to his musical origins. This isn’t a Johnny Rotten-reminiscent caricature gone mad with power, but the actual artist as a person, and that reality gives his harshness a sharpened edge.

Another aspect of Tillman’s music that has survived the change is the concept of existential questioning through the act of searching. Every song on I Love You, Honeybear tells of an exhausting uncertainty and spiritual dissatisfaction within the minds of the lost and crestfallen.

Understanding the most standout track “Bored in the USA” is essential to understanding what this album accomplishes. Comprised of just piano and vocals, it takes on a confessional air with lyrics describing peoples’ bodies as strangers to themselves. This strangeness where there should be familiarity brilliantly parallels the speaker’s relationship to his lover, which is reduced to a dream of “a passionate obligation to a roommate.”

“Bored in the USA” functions so well here because it conspires with the rest of the album. It is the ironic search for meaning by discarding all that is meaningless, just to have nothing left in the end.

After that degree of bitterness, the relatively dull final track “I Went to the Store One Day” feels like a happy ending. As the speaker casually lists off dreams and memories to his honeybear, it seems that FJM considers it appropriate to accept meaninglessness and a lack of consequence as good thing in and of themselves.