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Music Review: Father John Misty – Fear Fun

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From the quirky brain of Father John Misty (a.k.a. J. Tillman, former Fleet Foxes drummer) surfaces the album Fear Fun. Released on the first of May 2012, the album is reminiscent of the sounds of the ‘70s, taking its listeners to a whimsical place, with backdrops everywhere from Hollywood to the funeral of a grandparent.

The album comes after Tillman’s departure with the Fleet Foxes in 2011 in pursuit of his own solo career. Manifesting after an “immobilizing period of depression,” as Tillman described it in an interview with Sub Pop, the record label under which his album was released, the narration of a tale of strangely vulnerable real life encounters appeared. The album title echoes this, driving home the idea that an appreciation for living can be lost when one is not willing to stare life in the face: bruises, pimples and all. Perhaps this is why there is a certain seriousness to the tone of his voice, which is not always matched with the lighter images vocalized in some of his lyrics.

Regardless of tone, Tillman has a knack for taking unfriendly topics and making them palatable. In the song “Nancy From Now On,” lyrics evoking depressing images like “Oh pour me another drink/And punch me in the face” are paired with the more soothing images of milk and honey, which flow “just a couple states below.” In essence, all of the songs are hopeful and are persistent in their message of being better once again.

Another trend in Fear Fun is the presence of various religious images scattered throughout the album, which provide the brunt of the album’s humor—if Father John Misty doesn’t evoke the fear and slightly amusing picture of an unholy clergyman, then I don’t know what does. Tillman highlights religion, considering everything from the bro-y relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, two figures from the Christian tradition in “Every Man Needs a Companion,” to an encounter with a Canadian shaman in “I’m Writing a Novel.” Lyrics like “I ran down the road/Pants down to my knees/Screaming ‘Please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!'” evoke a visual too hysterical to forget.

The one downfall of this album is the absence of diversity in rhythm, which benefits the cohesion of the album, but hurts the experience of actually listening to it, due to the lack of a refreshing jolt needed to keep listeners actively engaged. This album might be best listened to a song at a time.

But what Fear Fun does have is worth listening to. Boasting both redemption and reclamation of the self, J. Tillman has hit the right note with this album. With a perfect balance of lyricism, seriousness and humor, it seems that Tillman was able to figure out (to the degree that anything can ever really be figured out) whatever it was that allowed him to produce such a thoughtful Father John Misty album.

The album Fear Fun is currently available for download and in CD/vinyl form. Father John Misty is touring with upcoming show dates both in the U.S. & U.K.

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