Once the drummer for Fleet Foxes from 2008-2011, Father John Misty’s J. Tillman has been releasing solo music of his own since 2003. After a bout of depression in Seattle, Tillman set out to traverse the western coastline with no particular destination. Fuelled by mushrooms, wanderlust, and other substances, the resulting material came forth in the form of Fear Fun, the debut under Tillman’s new nom de plume, Father John Misty.
Fear Fun’s 12 tracks provide an aural parallel to a drug and whiskey afterglow– the aches and pains of the morning-after hangover, wincing at bright sunshine filtering through the blinds. Tillman sculpts a sparkling album that’s equal parts morbid, ambling, and luminous. The monotone droll of opener “Fun Times in Babylon” provides a languid overture to 40 minutes of sinister lyrics with disarming veneers.
This theme is best exemplified on lead track “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, notable for its driving backbeat and casual handling of death and strange love (“Jesus Christ, girl,” Tillman croons, “It hasn’t been long so it seems since I was picking out an island and a tomb for you at the Hollywood Cemetery.”) “Nancy from Now On” provides a dreamy, Harry Nilson-inspired retro feel and a wonderfully NSFW-dominatrix-themed video. A quarter of the way into the album, it’s apparent that Tillman is an enigmatic man with many vices, though he claims to simply be seeking an outlet for bottled-up ennui in the making of this album: “I didn’t want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy…any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humor and sex and mischief.” Well, it’s all there: the ladies’ man story lines, “smoking everything in sight,” gagged and tied bodies in the backs of vans—dark images and reckless memories packaged into a whirlwind trip put forth in album form.
The character of Fear Fun lies in its multitude of influences. Tillman explores the West Coast road-tripping sound (“Writing a Novel), ’70s country tumbleweed twang (“Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2”), and depression-haze (“O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me.”) Organs, pedal steel, acoustic harmony, and clashing minor chords are used artfully throughout, contributing to the fog-filled atmosphere of the album. A striking, adept piece made accessible by Tillman’s clear-as-a-bell voice, Fear Fun is the ideal companion for a weird headspace.
Essential Tracks: “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, “Nancy from Now On”, and “Only Son of a Ladies Man”