Father John Misty ‘Fear Fun' (Sub Pop)
“Fear Fun” is former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman's declaration of independence after being obscured behind that group's Graham Nash-sound-alike frontman Robin Pecknold for the last four years. It's true that the Seattle-based, alt-folk Foxes had one of the best albums of 2011 with “Helplessness Blues” on the Sub Pop label, but Tillman had little to do with that beyond his excellent percussion work.
Reinventing himself as the right trippy “Father John Misty,” and still recording on the leftward-thinking, potential-underground-star nurturing Sub Pop imprint, Tillman has released a solo effort of electrifying beauty and rocking originality written by his righteously inventive self.
If his press notes can be believed, he moved from Seattle to a spider-infested tree house in Laurel Canyon with an ample supply of hallucinogenic mushrooms and came up with the dozen melodic dreamworks found on “Fear Fun.”
The opening “Funtimes in Babylon” introduces his new persona in a supernal fashion; a slow, breezy ballad that incorporates a small orchestra of acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano, upright bass, strings and Leslie Stevens providing the multitracked female choir behind Tillman's vocals, which bear a strong resemblance to the operatic stylings of Roy Orbison.
John Bonham-heavy drumming on the mid-tempo, melodic dirge “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is a haunting three minutes of psych-pop reflection on death, while “I'm Writing a Novel” is a piano-rolling rocker reminiscent of John Lennon's “Ballad of John and Yoko,” with smoother edges and lyrics that seem to recount a creative crisis triggering a very bad Hollywood fever dream.
The epic wall-of-sound folk-rock of “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” the orchestral “Sgt. Pepper's”-like weirdness of “This is Sally Hatchet” and the hilarious and self-stinging commentary of “Now I'm Learning to Love the War” (“Try not to think so much about / The truly staggering amount / Of oil / That it takes to make a record”) makes you love him all the more.
This crazily elegant mix of eccentric folk, country, mid-period Beatles and Led Zeppelin influences and Tillman's own odd muse make this one of the first really refreshing musical surprises of 2012.
— Gene Triplett