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Josh Tillman had a nearly ten year career going as J. Tillman before he joined Fleet Foxes, and continued to release records under that moniker even as FF was emerging as one of the breakout indie folk/rock bands of the past five years. He was adversarial, prickly of character to the point where it often felt as though Fleet Foxes was very much, for him, the sideline gig. So it shocked no one who was paying attention that in 2011, he decided to split from the band and Seattle, and chart a new path points south, in our modern Babylon in the TMZ, Los Angeles.
"Funtimes in Babylon" leads off Fear Fun, the debut album from Tillman's new alias, Father John Misty. It's a easy, swaying pastoral sound, guitar, mandolin, and the singer's clear blue voice declaring "look out Hollywood, here I come." And yet, this isn't Axl Rose stepping off that bus ready to rock out on the Strip. There's hedonist dabbling on the album, which was made at a studio in Echo Park with producer pal Jonathan Wilson, and plenty of fun to be had, but there's also reflection, misgivings, and yes, fear. "Misty's Nightmares 1& 2" is a journal-stream accounting of images and life ambivalence, while piano, tambourine and strings conspire on the lovely, slightly world-weary "Now I'm Learning to Love the War".
The "fun" part of the equation in Fear Fun comes in the form of the honky tonk sound of "Tee Pees 1-12", the rollicking self-examination of "I'm Writing a Novel" with its references to Malibu and West Hollywood, and especially "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings", all West Coast jangle and the graveyard hook line, "We should let this dead guy sleep".
While not explicitly contrasting his new record with Fleet Foxes, Tillman did say in his recent album bio from Sub Pop, "I don’t even like wound-licking music, I want to listen to someone rip their arm off and beat themselves with it. I don’t believe that until now I’ve ever put anything at risk in my music. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about.”
Not wound-licking, and plenty visceral, am incisive and moving singer-songwriter's latest adventure chronicles the good, bad, and deflating of Babylon on the Pacific. Discover it! Josh Tillman's debut as Father John Misty, Fear Fun.