Father John Misty: Total Entertainment Forever

The story behind the greatest writer of the 21st century.


Derek Key

Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/derekskey/7273216412

By Travis Moore, Staff Writer

Father John Misty is by far the greatest lyricist of the 21st century. He is so far beyond his contemporaries it’s almost comedic. Since 2012, Joshua Tillman has released four studio albums under the name Father John Misty, and each one is an absolute masterpiece. Tillman started his career in music as a drummer for famed indie rock group Fleet Foxes, but left the band during the tour for their second album, Helplessness Blues, after taking too much LSD and experiencing an ego death. He wrote the group an email about how he felt the role of drummer was restrictive and how he wanted to pursue other musical endeavors. He released a couple albums under the name J. Tillman, but something wasn’t clicking. He realized to reach his full potential as an artist he needed to remove himself from his writing. That’s when he created Father John Misty.

His first album under the new name, Fear Fun, was released in 2012 on legendary Sub Pop Records. It was met with lukewarm critical reception at the time, but has aged really well. It’s probably his most spastic album, each song having its own life and ideas. It’s honestly a brilliant album. A stand out track in the album is “I Am Writing a Novel” about……. Well writing a novel. The album contains very surreal and psychedelic imagery, which sounds fantastic against Tillman’s folky style.

…oh great, that’s just what we all need, another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so […] seriously

— Father John Misty

Then came his second album, I Love You Honeybear, an album completely devoted to how much he loves his wife. In this album, he takes a more bare bones approach to songwriting with less surreal imagery. Every song drips buttery, sappy love. Most artists would make this album sound corny, but not Tillman; his bittersweet disposition shines through on the track “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” where his hateful lyrics about his woman are juxtaposed against the beautiful instrumentation. It’s a perfect album. His narrative voice is unparalleled and this album is the perfect example of why.

After that came his second perfect album Pure Comedy in 2017; an album about the absurdity of the world we inhabit. This album is utterly heart wrenching. Every song making a brilliant point at why what we do as humans is completely pointless, while Tillman points and laughs at us. Sounds pretty pretentious, huh? Don’t worry, Tillman realizes this on the 13 minute magnum opus “Leaving LA” where he says “…oh great, that’s just what we all need, another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddamn seriously”. This album is more politically conscience than any of his other work, and it came out at the perfect time. It made its debut right after Donald Trump had been elected, making the sentiment in the opening track “Where did they find these goons they elected to rule us, what makes the clowns they idolize so remarkable”. Pure Comedy is a stroke of genius that could only have come from Father John Misty.

His most recent release, God’s Favorite Customer, is a bit of a return to his older writing style of surrealism. Like Fear Fun, God’s Favorite Customer doesn’t really have one central theme like Pure Comedy and I Love You Honeybear. It hops around from drug abuse, to religion, to love. It’s still a brilliant album though of course, but it seems to air on the side of poppy. This may have to do with the fact that Pure Comedy didn’t exactly sell as well as he had hoped. The more poppy instrumentation, of course, doesn’t take away from the beautiful lyrics that Tillman has been know for.

Father John Misty is a once in a lifetime kind of artist. He is truly the modern embodiment of what a truly great writer can be. One day when people look back at the greatest lyricists, like the Dylans, the Reeds, and the Cobains, Joshua Tillman will be a name that you can’t help but mention.