It takes a lot of guts to leave one of the most successful rock bands of recent years to cut out on your own and produce an album that is the culmination of much invested time. Tillman was of course the drummer in the Fleet Foxes until he departed in 2012 to concentrate on this project under the moniker of Father John Misty. He has already under his belt some seven albums not least the nice bluesy Americana of 2009s "Vacilando Territory Blues" that whilst not quite turning the earth off it axis contained some fine tunes from an inspired musician. In terms of "Fear Fun" more risks are taken and they largely pay off in music which sees Tillman employ a more expansive template.
Undoubtedly some will argue that the ghosts of Laurel Canyon haunt his production but damn it if its good enough for Dawes and Jonathan Wilson why can't old Joshua have a slice of the action? In decamping to Los Angeles to record this album Tillman also seems to cultivated a sense of humour which was somewhat lacking from previous records. He describes the album as "weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences" which allude to such existential luminaries Sartre and Heidegger as inspiration. Whether such a bunch of angst ridden philosophers is a good template for essentially West coast rock music is a debate that this reviewer will leave to the cleverer purchasers on Amazon, suffice it say that that large parts of this record are upbeat and in the equation of the title fun triumphs over fear. The use of otherworldly substances clearly plays a part in all this and Tillman admits that on his journey from rainy Seattle to humid LA he was carrying "enough mushrooms to choke a horse." Well they worked and on the truly lovely standout track "Nancy from now on" you hear the product of a man puffing out his chest, expanding his lungs and confidentially striding forward as a great songwriter with a lovely slice of work infused with a wicked set of lyrics. In "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" he produces a punchy rock song that has been over the music blogs like flooding water in a wet April. He even seems to poke fun at the overused classic sick note excuse when he states that "Jesus Christ, girl/What are people gonna think/When I show up to one of several funerals/I've attended for grandpa this week". Best of the lot is the ghostly "Fun times in Babylon" where Tillman finds his niche in a slow alt country lament which confirms his departure from the Fleet Foxes is built on a sound foundations which should see him cut his own expanse as a solo artist. Equally "Oh I Long to feel your arms around me" sees him occupy the territory once colonized by bands like Poco and America. It is a song that allows him like all good hippies to display a nice sense of guilt not least he when he frets about the industry he works in and advises "Try not to think so much about/The truly staggering amount of oil/ That it takes to make a record/All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining/The high gloss/The tape and the "gear". Other songs to mentioned in dispatches includes the warm summer country feel of "Misty's nightmares 1 & 2" and the cracking confessional finale of "Everyman needs a companion". A nod also to the colourful psychedelic art of Dima Drjuchin on the cover of this CD which is to praised for the sheer imagination on display.
There are a couple of missteps here. The rather clichéd sub Beatles style ballad "Sally Hatchet" who allegedly "lives in a hole in the ground" does grate a bit, whilst "Writing a novel" again sounds like a weak John Lennon track. But this an album brimming with ideas and a set of ingenious lyrics, which have been properly refined. As such look forward with great anticipation to his forthcoming 2015 release "I Love You Honey Bear". it should be a corker.
Review by Red on Black