On display: the heart of Father John Misty

Artist escapes sophomore slump with stellar “I Love You, Honeybear”

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Album: I Love You, Honeybear

Artist: Father John Misty

Label: Sub Pop

Release date: Feb. 10

Grade: A-

Josh Tillman’s career has stretched over the span of a decade, but reached a new artistic apex as Father John Misty, with his sophomore debut I Love You, Honeybear.

His second album as Father John Misty is sweet and sad, thrilling and calming, all at once.

On I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman waxes and wanes about how falling in love changed his world, but not without also commenting on the mistakes he made along the way.

This, on the surface, seems a rather generic theme.

But somewhere in between listening to Tillman sing about two naked girls singing “Silent Night” in a bathtub (“The Night Josh Tillman Came Over To Out Apt.”) and his own feelings being both horrified and liberated by love (“When You Are Smiling and Aside Me”) comes the realization that I Love You, Honeybear is an enormous musical undertaking.

Tillman can go from making a scathing political commentary, disguised with snippets of recorded laughter and gentle crooning, to making commentaries on love and drug use, to discussions about his love-life and his future, all in the same album.

The album never goes a second without surprises.

Such is his strange, charismatic talent.

On the LP’s self-titled opening track, “I Love You, Honeybear,” Tillman outlines his course for the album – a journey of love, euphoric highs and terrifying lows: “I’ve brought my mother’s depression / You’ve got your father’s scorn and a wayward aunt’s schizophrenia / But everything is fine.”

It is the tension between his distant humor and touching vulnerability that gives birth to one of the most emotionally resonant albums of the year so far.

Perhaps it is the crossover between Tillman’s expansive musical and life experiences that drive home the album’s all-encompassing emotional scope.

Tillman has been releasing music since 2004. First releasing his own experimental folk solo albums under his own name, Tillman then joined the indie-rock icons Fleet Foxes as a drummer and singer, crooning sweet and sad airy ballads.

Now, as Father John Misty, Tillman shows us his most personal and musically mature side yet.

I Love You, Honeybear is a pure folk album is held together with understated, nuanced drum stomps and rolls, and is highlighted with the twanging acoustics, strings and ever-present jazzy, sultry piano.

The Americana-influenced folk sound never overpowers Tillman’s lyrics – rather, the natural, acoustic arrangements seem to personify Tillman’s emotive state.

As Father John Misty, Tillman has infused his new personality into his sounds – a blend of cutting, sardonic wit and incredibly intimate scenes.

In a series of genuinely sweet, critically funny, self-exploratory and self-disgusted songs about love, life, death and everything in between, Tillman sings about himself.

In one of the most memorable lines on the album, Tillman tells the listener he is giving us his all, leaving everything out there for us to learn from and laugh at as we choose.

“It’s all free and too easy, giving it away,” Tillman sings on “Strange Encounter.” ”It’s not cheap, but here I am giving it all away.”

He leaves nothing out.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com