Ex-Fleet Foxes sticksman gets superbly freaky on a special solo voyage.
Martin Aston 2012
For all their stark and fragile resonance, neither album that Joshua Tillman had previously released in the UK – Vacilando Territory Blues and Year in the Kingdom, both issued in 2009 – suggested Fleet Foxes’ drummer was destined for a solo career.
In fact, as diligent Tillman fans knew, the latter of the two was already his sixth; and a seventh, Singing Ax, followed in 2010. Still, when Josh decided to leave the über-successful Seattlites, it seemed a bit risky. But he clearly knew something we didn’t.
Tillman’s first album as Father John Misty takes giant steps to underline his credentials, with a broader ambition, vocal reach and emotional gravitas. Tillman claims this was the result of leaving Seattle with “enough [magic] mushrooms to choke a horse,” and settling in Laurel Canyon, LA’s epicentre of soft-rock dreams, though another theory posits that his younger brother Zach could be the catalyst.
Zach had adopted an alias, Pearly Gate Music, before Josh; and his album of the same name (also on Bella Union) was partially indebted to Big Star’s seminal Third/Sisters Lovers opus, just as Fear Fun is. It’s clear Josh has sidelined his Neil Young-isms just as he had settled in Young’s backyard.
The connection to late Big Star lynchpin Alex Chilton is underlined by Fear Fun’s references to Jesus (Tillman considered becoming a pastor before being saved by the Good Lord Rock ’n’ Roll). These nods begin with Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, and Tillman mirrors Chilton’s same forays into 50s roots music, audible in the barroom swing of Tee Pees 1-12.
Not that Fear Fun isn’t its own, inspired brew of, indeed, both fear and fun. It’s located in a Bermuda Triangle of haunted ballads and wired rockers between Chilton, Young’s After the Gold Rush and Fleet Foxes’ lonesome-pine beauty, before Tillman stirs in his own twisted DNA, confessing in I'm Writing a Novel, "I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming.”
Another plus factor is the crack Laurel Canyon session team assembled by producer Jonathan Wilson, which gives Tillman a shifting, expansive backdrop on which to spill his layered, narrative mysteries.
Whoever Father John Misty is, he’s a hell of a find.