By Meg McCarney
Everyone’s favorite indie-folk preacher, Josh Tillman, is back with two singles from his upcoming album, Chloe and the Next 20th Century. The former Fleet Foxes drummer, better known as Father John Misty, found his sign to go solo during a transformative Ayahuasca trip in the Pacific Northwest. True to his drug-fueled origins, Tillman has built his lyrical identity around the chaos and complexity of a head trip. It’s tough to pin down exactly who he is, as the traits he chooses to lead with are always shifting. At times, he’s a little swaggering, self-absorbed. He’s emotionally jaded in one breath, then swooning by the next, as liable to paint an endearing portrait of a lover as he is to make some wry observation about them that’s unduly blunt. He’ll say something prolific about the world being a beautiful place just as he tears it to shreds, calling out our leaders and laughing at the problems we make for ourselves. Perhaps it’s the utter human unpredictability, the sense of being a total enigma that’s made him a venerable indie star.
On his latest singles, Father John Misty never strays far from the tried-and-true formula that’s made his music so infectious, infusing sweeping, orchestral sonic landscapes with lyrics that can’t resist the urge to roll their eyes at society and its cliches. The first of four singles to be released before the LP’s April 8 drop, "Funny Girl," opens with saccharine horns reminiscent of a lovesick black-and-white film, setting the scene for Tillman’s soulful drone to take center stage.
It’s a glitzy, Hollywood premiere-esque showcase of instrumentation, with glamorous, jaunty trumpets ushering the listener into Tillman’s current romantic affliction. His characteristically poetic lyrics, as well as playful, tongue-in-cheek charm, take hold here, as he pines after a dazzling starlet as effortlessly as he rhymes "Letterman" with "direction." Remaining true to his misanthropic persona, his crush is far from unfettered. As much as he regards her as a charmer, Tillman can’t resist the urge to hold tight to his pride, reminding her that "you're young but baby, you're not getting younger."
Tillman’s second single, "Q4," is slightly less Old Hollywood and a bit more psychedelic '60s folk-pop. The track opens with a sharp, percussive smack, leading into a euphoric explosion of sauntering strings and twinkling keys. Here, Tillman tells a tale of artistic heartbreak, recounting the story of fictional writer Simone, whose memoir is constantly turned down by publishers while lesser works garner rave reviews. "Oh, the indignity," Tillman bellows, until the chorus rushes in and finds the publishers changing their minds. Simone’s book would be perfect to improve their Q4 earnings, they say. Tillman once again injects his societal strife into his art, using cold, financial language to characterize a capitalistic marriage of publisher and author. It’s a partnership that allows Tillman’s knack for pinpointing the inconvenience and ambivalence in a seemingly perfect union to shine. The proverbial rain on the parade though he may be, he’s once again astute at dissecting culture and people.
For a man whose act revolves around coming off as blasé, Tillman tackles the world’s problems with the careful concentration of a man who’s clearly overcome by them. True to Father John Misty’s character, his act really only exists as a mirror, a reminder to us all — and himself — to drop our silly pretenses.
On "Funny Girl" and "Q4," Tillman proves that he’s still toiling sonically, perfecting his lyrical style, and fully embracing his persona with the confidence of an artist who’s been around long enough to know what he wants to stand for. A beacon of validation for us all, Tillman’s next project appears primed to offer more commentary on what it means to be rife with contradictions, simultaneously in love with the world and repulsed by the violence and greed it inspires. With his fifth release dropping next month, our modern-day indie reverend shows no signs of slowing down…or of getting any less cynical. Not that we’d want him to, of course.