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Father John Misty - Fear Fun

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Artist: Father John Misty

Album: Fear Fun

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: May. 31, 2012

“I’m writing a novel,” Josh Tillman sings on Father John Misty’s debut, and those who’ve bought a physical edition of the album will note that he’s not speaking metaphorically: there are long swaths of prose to accompany your listening experience. Later on the album, “Tee Pees 1-12” features a lyrical nod to Richard Brautigan, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that, with this project, Tillman found a musical equivalent to Brautigan’s equally pastoral and surrealist prose.

When your album’s opener includes the line “Look out Hollywood, here I come,” you know you’re in a particular strain of Californian pop. (Tillman now resides in Laurel Canyon.) But like Richard Swift, Tillman isn’t simply looking to emulate the work of the likes of Harry Nilsson and Gram Parsons; instead, Fear Fun takes that basic template and pulls it in surreal directions. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is reminiscent of Tillman’s labelmate Chad Van Gaalen in its lo-fi psychedelia, and elsewhere on the album massed vocal harmonies break down the verse-chorus-verse structure into something primal.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that Tillman, in addition to a number of solo albums released under his own name, was a member of Fleet Foxes for a few years, departing the band in 2011. One can hear echoes of that group’s use of vocal harmonies here, albeit to a very different effect. Tillman smartly doesn’t let this technique overwhelm the album, preferring instead to allow it to slowly accumulate power. In the end, the haunted-sounding choruses lend the album a surreal quality, putting it in the same "familiar, but not quite camp" as Phosphorescent.

Not everything on Fear Fun clicks. Some of the lyrics stumble somewhat; “Nancy From Now On” contains lyrical references to both Howard Hughes and concentration camps, creating a sense of imbalance in terms of the imagery cited. Overall, though, the mood on Fear Fun is consistent in its constant fluctuations; it’s eerie when it needs to be and just familiar enough to lure in the listener.

By Tobias Carroll

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