I know, I know, that music is completely subjective and even if I rave about an artist, maybe it just isn’t for you! But I’m going to do that anyway because Father John Misty has blessed us with I Love You, Honeybear, and it has exceeded all of my expectations.
The 11-track album feels like a massive feat for Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman). Aside from the stellar production, it’s incredibly personal, self-deprecating, and at times even funny. I Love You, Honeybear feels like a love letter to Tillman’s wife where the basic gist is “the world is hurtling toward oblivion, but we’ve got each other and isn’t that amazing?” At times (especially during “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”) the songs can feel comically over-the-top, but there’s a thread of sincerity that binds the whole album together and makes this a spectacular listen.
I Love You, Honeybear opens with a song of the same name. The intimacy of repeating the pet name “Honeybear” over and over is juxtaposed with bleak lyrics like “you’re the one I want to watch the ship go down with.” This tension between tenderness and apparent nihilism sets the tone for the songs to follow.
Next up is “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins).” It’s the fourth iteration of one of the most straightforward love songs on the album. It’s also the shortest song, which feels appropriate since it’s just 2:51 of gushing. “What are you doing with your whole life/how bout forever?” This line almost feels like a cheesy 80s country song, but the soaring instrumentation—including an unexpected horn section—takes it above the purely sentimental. The album takes a detour into the synthed-out, electronic world of “True Affection.” Tillman uses engineered melodies as a backdrop to bemoan the use of “strange devices” in place of face-to-face conversations. Sonically, it’s the outlier on I Love You, Honeybear, but FJM’s vocals keep it cohesive.
Things get weird (they were already weird, but they get considerably weirder) with “The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.” This track centers around a vapid, pretentious, pseudo-bohemian girl that Tillman spends the night with—and hates a lot. Musically, this song has a charming early pop sound to it that undermines lines like, “why don’t you move to the Delta/I obliged later on when you begged me to choke ya.” Yikes.
Groovy 70s vibes ooze out of “Smiling and Astride Me.” “Strange Encounter” is aptly named as it starts out, “only ever be the girl who just almost died in my house.” “Ideal Husband” and “Bored in the USA” are unrelenting and powerful in both music and lyrics.
I Love You, Honeybear winds down with “Holy Shit”—an introspective series of lists regarding the decay of the modern world. Tillman bellows and bemoans religiosity, mass media, and the futility of life. But then, just when the diatribe is starting to feel a little worn, he switches gears almost imperceptibly. “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity, but what I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.” Ah, and there is the tie that binds. “I Went to the Store One Day” works in much the same way. It combines simple finger-picking guitar with a strings section and Tillman’s raw vocals to create a gorgeous love song. Of course, it still has the bleak element characteristic of all Father John Misty songs, but it’s also unapologetically sentimental.
I think that’s what I loved the most about I Love You, Honeybear. Yes, Tillman’s vocals are unbelievable and the instrumentation is marvelous and rich, but more than that, there is movement and tension in this album. Tillman laments the state of the universe, the pointlessness of existence, the truth that no one will be remembered forever. And still, in his own way, he celebrates and marvels at this love he has found, at this woman he has married. Within this tension lives an affecting truth. And Tillman guides us through the thick of it with tremendous skill.