Later this month American singer-songwriter Father John Misty (also known as Josh Tillman)
visits the Portsmouth Guildhall. As a fan of the bearded multi-instrumentalist, I thought I
would take this as an opportunity to revisit his four studio albums. This is mainly so that I
could build-up my own excitement for the evening, but I also want to be able to provide a
quick run-down of his work for anyone looking to delve into the darkly-comic stylings Mr.
Tillman has to offer.
Josh Tillman’s first album under this pseudonym (he has a catalogue of releases under his
own name), offers a witty look into the artist’s transition into the occasionally braggadocios,
often lovesick performer that is Father John Misty. Having previously played supporting roles
in various bands, Fear Fun chronicles some of the events that led him to revitalise his solo-
career. Tracks such as ‘Well, You Can Do It Without Me’ and ‘I’m Writing a Novel’ are shout
filled romps about the stifled creativity that came with working as a group.
Filled with interesting song topics and funny, creative lyrics, Fear Fun is filled to the brim with
catchy folk tunes and soulful ballads. On his debut, Father John Misty showcases how he
can almost effortlessly write a melody. He never provides a dull moment, transitioning from
upbeat track after upbeat track to lovesick anthem after lovesick anthem.
I Love You, Honeybear
Almost entirely dedicated to his wife, I Love You, Honeybear is a sickly-sweet, beautiful
tribute to the woman he fell in love with. Throughout the album, Father John Misty regales
the listener with tales of disastrous romantic interests he’s had in the past – particularly on
the song ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.’ – and how none compare to the love he
feels for her. At times, Josh comes across as feeling undeserving of such love, with tracks
such as ‘The Ideal Husband’ serving as a rampage, detailing all of his flaws and then
ironically proclaiming himself to be, well… the ideal husband.
The closing track, ‘I Went to The Store One Day’, existentially retells the story of how the two
met, saying that all because he went to the shop for some coffee and cigarettes, he’s now
hopelessly and helplessly in love – which is both an amazing and frightening concept to think
about. The bittersweet feeling present throughout is mediated by genuine moments of love’s
proclamation, present primarily on the album’s title track, a carefree, sugar-coated detail.
Personally, Pure Comedy is my favourite of the bunch. Here, Father John Misty is angry at
the state of things; politically, socially, existentially… in most ways you can think of. On the
title track, Josh matter-of-factly details the inherent absurdity at the core of humanity.
Father John Misty never really yells or shouts on this album; here he is much more forlorn – depressed almost – that society has reached the point it has. The track ‘The Ballad of the Dying Man’ is simultaneously a catchy, easy to sing-along tune as well as a breaking down of all the things he might regret when he dies, and all the things he feels he should have called out while he was still alive. There has always been an ironic quality to Father John Misty’s music, but here he really flexes his comedic wit. There are moments throughout where Josh is very contemplative,
with long, droning tracks in which he laments his religious upbringing, especially on the 13-
minute-long ‘Leaving LA’, and the hymn-like ‘When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell
God’s Favourite Customer
While I think this might be Father John Misty’s weakest album, there is still a lot to love about
God’s Favourite Customer. Some of Mr. Tillman’s catchiest tracks fall on this album,
contrasting with perhaps some of his darkest and most depressing lyrics. Written primarily
during a 3-month period in which he stayed in a hotel room, God’s Favourite Customer is a
breakdown of the persona he has built up over the last six or so years and features some of
his most personal moments. The track ‘Mr Tillman’ is again an ironic self-reflexive ballad about the disorderly antics he got up to in his lengthy stay at the hotel, and his “I’m feeling good and I’m feeling so fine”refrain on the chorus is laughable, if not also a cause for concern. The title track is a
sombre call-back to his religious roots, referring to himself as once being “God’s Favourite
Customer”, he now finds himself a drunken mess stumbling the streets of New York.