Folk gets freaky with Father John Misty

Album: Fear Fun (2012)

Artist: Father John Misty

Label: Sub-Pop

Artist Joshua Tillman has released a thunderous debut under the moniker “Father John Misty” with his album, Fear Fun. It is rough and electric, with gritty guitar licks that sound like they’re piping out of a school intercom. It’s rhythm and blues, with shuffle steps, organs and twang. It’s haunting and comic, with lyrics both chilling and hilarious.

The album starts with the melodious, orchestral “Fun Times in Babylon,” which features Tillman’s strong tenor backed by thumping percussion and shimmering mandolins. The song sets the tone of the album by introducing its strongest motifs: Hollywood, religion and the apocalypse. At times, the record feels like it shot out of the psychedelic era so fast that it’s red hot; twisted, smoldering, recognizable only faintly behind the smoke. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” sounds like a melancholy, chiming British Invasion anthem with twisted lyrics. “At the Hollywood Cemetery / You kiss / On me /  We should let this dead guy sleep,” chants Tillman. The song freezes your blood into a slushy as it comes to a close with a howling, falsetto moan.

I’m Writing a Novel” has the up-down shuffle and twang of a CCR number, if John Fogerty sang about bad trips. In it, Tillman recounts a bizarre tale that is too strange to be fiction.

The album’s most haunting moment comes on “O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me.” An organ and a heavy bass drum, accompanied by a chanting chorus, backs Tillman as he sings, “Everyone’s riding on the rolling tide. Their hearts are heavy and the sea is wide.” It is a true dirge that leaves an impression in your bones long after it is done.

Things get less heavy, but no less brilliant, with the later tracks. “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” is ironically insightful, where Tillman considers all the oil it takes to make records and paintings while asking the listener not to think about it. He muses on dinosaur bones, concluding, “I sure hope they make something useful out of me.”

The album is both a refreshing throwback and a stinging innovation, and one that comes highly recommended by this writer. Key Tracks: Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, Everyman Needs a Companion