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Father John Misty

+ {J. Tillman}

Whether alt-country or folk-rock, bearded singer-songwriter Joshua Tillman (born May 3, 1981 in Seattle, Washington) will be best known for being a recent addition (as the drummer – late in 2008) to FLEET FOXES; J’s other bands Stately and SAXON SHORE (the latter the American equivalent to MOGWAI) have also been on the go since the early 00s.
As a solo artist J. TILLMAN was kindled by the moody textures of NICK DRAKE, RYAN ADAMS and DAMIEN JURADO, the latter guy inviting him to be his backing musician (and subsequent solo support) on his mid-00s tour. Recordings at this stage were of the CD-R variety, I WILL RETURN (2005) {*6} and LONG MAY YOU RUN, J. TILLMAN (2006) {*6} being surprisingly very polished, while finding a sense of fragility and tenderness all of their own. Best bet was to buy them on a re-released double-CD package, which highlighted just what could’ve been missed in `Lilac Hem’, `Your Mother’s Ghost’, `Two Years In Film’, etc.
Albums three and four also arrived quick-fire and from different outlets; MINOR WORKS (2006) {*7} and CANCER AND DELIRIUM (2007) {*6} leaning on a country swagger prospective rather than something aligned to folk music. Supported by sparse drumming and old-hat steel guitar, an Americana fingerprint was all over ballads `Darling Night’ and the disconsolate `When I Light Your Darkened Door’, `Ribbons Of Glass’ and `Visions Of A Troubled Mind’.
While FLEET FOXES scurried up the charts with their debut set, TILLMAN’s subsequent solo sets VACILANDO TERRITORY BLUES (2009) {*7} and YEAR IN THE KINGDOM (2009) {*7} were giving the man his own independence, albeit with the backing of ROBIN GUTHRIE’s Bella Union imprint. Gothic and gloomy in places, `Stand On Steel’, `No Occasion’ and `First Born’ (from the first of these) left a lasting impression, while the multi-instrumentalist clicked into gear on `Crosswinds’, `Though I Have Wronged You’ and the dust-bowl heart-breaker `Howling Light’ (from the second).
Western Vinyl were behind these releases, as they were with his vinyl-only follow-up SINGING AX (2010) {*7}, leaked on-line a month before schedule. Produced by Steve Albini and Bob Weston, the overtly bleak and stark set was very much in the mould of WILL OLDHAM. `Three Sisters’, `Prayerful’ and `Love No Less Worthy’ conjured up images of the depression, when twisted preachers and religion pointed one to Jesus for one’s salvation.
When indie-folk troubadour Joshua morphed in much the same way OLDHAM previously jumped ship into alter-ego BONNIE PRINCE BILLY, the pseudonymous FATHER JOHN MISTY was die-cast on 2012’s erudite FEAR FUN {*7}. Very much in the mould of MARK KOZELEK, NILSSON and SKIP SPENCE, wry and wistful humour won the day over his wounded-sole persona. At times upbeat and Laurel Canyon inspired, and helped by producer Jonathan Wilson, the former crooner turned the tables and transcended into a bona fide retro-pop star through `Nancy From Now On’, `Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’, `Only Son Of A Ladiesman’ and `Everyman Needs A Companion’.
On the back of one further J. TILLMAN set, the vinyl-only instrumental soundtrack to his wife Emma Elizabeth Tillman’s short film, THE HISTORY OF CAVES (2013) {*5}, a second Sub Pop-endorsed helping of the bold and brave FATHER JOHN MISTY arrived with 2015’s I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR {*8}. Confessional in his self-effacing alter-ego embodiment, this singer could croon like a cussing GLEN CAMPBELL (examples `Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)’, `The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.’, `Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow’ and the swooning opening title track). Incorporating his inner country soul by way of `When You’re Smiling And Astride Me’, or finding his disco BEE GEES mojo in `True Affection’, it looked like the Tillman’s cash register would be eternally ringing.
Tillman’s FATHER JOHN MISTY persona was again preferred on PURE COMEDY (2017) {*8}, a double album that sparked comparisons to ELTON JOHN’s soft-rock era “Madman Across The Water”. Who said music had to be fun? Not the ambitious but mischievous Josh, a stately troubadour with one foot in the past, and another firmly in the present. Careful in his promo interviews concerning his lyrics “bedding Taylor Swift… every night inside the Oculus Rift” (for the track `Total Entertainment Forever’), Tillman explained that it was “virtual reality sex” rather than the real thing. The opening title track on the transatlantic Top 10 album was less controversial/confessional, and with a song (`Leaving LA’) amounting to 13 minutes, whilst their were top marks for `Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know About Before The Revolution’, `A Bigger Paper Bag’ and the country-esque, `So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain’.
Duly focusing on a breezier single album, the tongue-in-cheek GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER (2018) {*8}, had a similar effect on the buying public; though dropping a little in sales. Opening salvo, `Hangout At The Gallows’, and the self-parodying `Mr. Tillman’ resonated fully with his listeners, as did the strum-y/grunge-y `Date Night’, the melodramatic `Please Don’t Die’ and the profound anchor piece, `We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Feb2015-Jun2018

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