There’s a sea of tales embracing this 2012 album. There’s the shaman, the cult-leader name, a back catalog of seven albums filled with introspective sad sack folk music, and the tenure as drummer for the Fleet Foxes. Then there is the more recent quest whereupon Josh Tillman got into a van with “enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go.” He was heading south, searching the unknown, writing a novel and some“weird-ass songs”, found his “narrative voice” and settled in the Laurel Canyon.
Tillman decided to release this album under the moniker Father John Misty (he has been recording and playing under the name J. Tillman for years). And seeing as these songs are such a departure from his previous output, it’s warranted. And yes, all of the mythos infects the music. The moniker not only peaks interest, it provides Tillman with adequate cover to sing with the confidence of a self-re-made-man.
Armed with amazing backing musicians and the sonically enlightened producer Jonathan Wilson, Tillman is allowed to explore and explode upon a charming batch of songs. The album has a fun, uplifting vibe, veering from Graham Parsons to The Band to Arthur Russell. There are Harry Nilsson moments of humor and there are Waylon Jennings bursts of understanding. There are Dylan-esque ramblings complete with linear songwriting. This is very much American music. The album plays as if a mix-tape, the only consistency being the approach – the playing, the sound, and the performances live inside their own skin. They own this shit
“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” sports a big fuzzy beat that plows behind ‘90’s grunge-light guitars and subdued vocals that point to early Beck. It’s a thoughtful sound, and an engaging one at that. Throughout the album, the vocals are allowed to dance on top of the backing band. To me, the knockout song on this album is the closer, “Everyman Needs A Companion”, a self-reflecting repetitive barroom ballad that displays humor, candor, and confidence. It’s a song that stands out from the rest of the album by way of acceptance. It is as if Father John Misty finally acknowledges what he does best.
The album is available from Sub Pop and is beautifully packaged in a thick gatefold jacket. The LP is heavy and arrived clean, with minimal surface noise. The sound is impressive, with live instruments clearly defined and the vocals rich and present and forward in the mix. The LP was mixed by Phil Elk and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound.