Foreword / Father John Misty at SummerStage
David Burke, Contributing Writer, Foreword / Afterword, August 3, 2015
Father John Misty is playing SummerStage in Central Park this Wednesday, and you’re well advised to be there. You’re probably familiar with Father John Misty, even if the name appears to you, dimly lit, just beyond the reaches of your clear recognition. Born Joshua Tillman, Father John Misty has been significant to your indie-folk conscious musical taste since the 2000s, both as the drummer for Fleet Foxes during the Helplessness Blues period, as well as with Saxon Shore and under previous moniker J.Tillman as a solo act.
He’s so cool, most of your friends don’t know who he is, and to this, you’ve earned your right to scoff. He’s the ultimate cool kid – so cool, he has transcended hipsterism entirely. He carries himself like Johnny Cash – dark, afflicted, purposed, and while his work as J.Tillman was decidedly indie folk – breathy and quiet vocals atop sparse and hollow acoustic guitar – his work and his persona as Father John Misty is much harder to pin down. Not aloof, but absolved. Not withdrawn, but resolved.
As I was lapping his 2015 LP, I Love You Honeybear, I struggled to place the predecessor that he conjured so intensely. Part lounge singer, part folk satirist, part brooding singer songwriter, Father John Misty is a bona fide feather in your in-the-know music listener’s cap. To my surprise, he conjures a young Dan Fogelberg and indeed there is an obvious 7os troubadour influence here, but that’s just part of the person. Another part is a seedy and overt lounge singer who complicates the sound and the tone. You see, Father John Misty has a beautiful voice and he writes vivid, heartfelt lyrics to tell satirical and fatalistic stories, and brutally of-the-times subject matter. Yet, he’s not just some oddball indie kid. He’s multifaceted. He’s a showman, for sure; he’s pop relevant, and his 2015 record is even a bit electro influenced in addition to its many more predictable elements. The record is acutely sound conscious and styled. He even includes a laugh track on Bored In the USA. Still, he’s not an electro-hipster, or even comfortable to the Brooklyn scene, for that matter. The Seattle based lounge-folk songwriter is an anachronism, lyrically forward, and musically nostalgic and his subject matter clashes intensely with his format. Content-wise, his sex is infidelity and suicide, his drugs are antidepressants and Viagra, and his rock and roll doesn’t exist, nor does its lifestyle, though you can’t wring out the booze completely.
His latest LP, I Love You Honeybear is a bacchanal of futile and pleasure driven gestures by self-important urbanites set to a vast and bleak modern landscape and delivered in beautiful ballads. It’s affecting. The voice is lovely and the lyrics are threadbare, though the content is desolate and almost comical. Listening to it is like battling anesthetic. The music soothes you; the lyrics startle you back to focus.
It’s confounding, really, but it’s damn good and my money says it’s probably worth seeing live with Angel Olsen and Summer Moon in the serene outdoor vistas of our very own Central Park. It’s jarring, it’s lovely, I’m guessing it’s a bit of a party, and it’s probably what you should be doing with yourself Wednesday evening. That’s the word this week, boys and girls. There or square.