With glitter in his beard and performing on what ends up being a player piano, Father John Misty introduced the world to his single “Bored in the USA” from his new album I Love You, Honeybear on David Letterman. Replete with a full orchestra and finishing the performance with an impassioned plea from the singer, “Save me President Jesus / I’m bored in the USA / How did it happen?” you get a sneek peek into the experience of the album—expect the unexpected.
Under the moniker of Father John Misty, Joshua Tillman has created an album that is implausibly a mix between a new husband’s love and adoration for his wife with a caustic examination of the modern condition. Dovetailed into all of this is a bitter account of Tillman
himself as is evident in his song “The Ideal Husband” when he sings, “Knowing just what people want to hear / Bingeing on unearned attention / I’ve said awful things / Such awful things / And now it’s out.”
At times, Tillman’s efforts to sound raw and “real” are so try-hard you experience a mental face-
palm. In his country-tinged “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” Tillman taunts a person who is hitting on his wife “But my baby, she does something more impressive than the Georgia Crawl / She blackens pages like a Russian Romantic / And gets down more often than a blow-up doll / … Your chance has been taken—good one.” Lyrical moments like this make my face wince every time he finishes a line, even though the vocal performance is perfection and set against a sweeping, country orchestra, pop ballad of astounding sublimity.
So yes, even though the lyrics sometimes leave me laughing out loud or snorting in indignation, I truly love this album. The lush string arrangements, the unabashed love for glockenspiel, the California brand of Americana, and impeccable production of Jonathan Wilson (the producer of this album’s predecessor Fear Fun) all satisfy a longing to be washed over by opulent, ambitious music. As grandiose as the music is the crystal clear tenor of Tillman (tinged with just enough So-Cal crackle) which is the true star of the album. And when his lyrics are right, they affect you in a most peculiar way.
When he softly inquires “How many people rise and say, / ‘My brain’s so awfully glad to be here
for yet another mindless day / Now I’ve got all morning to obsessively accrue / A small nation of meaningful objects and they’ve gotta represent me too’ on the title track of the album, I sat in reflection for days about the monotonous domestic reproduction I participate in and how unfair it felt to be personified by the artefacts of material goods I command. Flash forward days later
when I was still thinking about it and I realized in utter embarrassment that Tillman wants the listener to recognize how lucky they are to be concerned with boredom, what a developed nation complaint. “They gave me a useless education / And a sub-prime loan on a craftsmen home.”
Tillman’s heart being poured all over your living room carpet is the kind of thing you need to be prepared for—an experience that can sprain your soul if you haven’t warmed up first. So if you want to make sure your ears are limber and adjusted, watch the Letterman performance. Enjoy the sparkle beard and canned laugh track moments of absurdity with an audience of a bewildered Letterman.