#5. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear
I Love You, Honeybear is the quirkiest, most original folk album of the year. It’s also probably the most sardonic love story in recent memory. Father John Misty describes it in an article for Sub Pop as “a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman who spends quite a bit of time banging his head against walls, cultivating weak ties with strangers, and generally avoiding intimacy at all costs.” The central character mentioned is Father John Misty himself. Born Joshua Tillman, he has released music under several aliases. A former member of indie band Fleet Foxes, he also had a lengthy solo career under the name J Tillman. Ironically, his current, more sarcastic persona has such a life of its own that it's allowed Tillman to make his most autobiographical album yet.
Many of the tracks drip with acerbic wit as he sings over jaunty countrified folk music about debaucherous escapades that eventually led him to meet his wife. The titular track opens up the album with piano playing that sounds lifted from an old western saloon. As the strings join the rest of the band, Tillman starts singing about his “honeybear”—a term that he doesn’t actually refer to his wife by, but rather employs here as a bit of intentionally mawkish language that establishes the sarcastic tone of the album. The album is full of silly language sung through smirking teeth, like the opening of “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” where he intones of his wife, “Emma eats bread and butter / like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine.”
As Tillman backtracks chronologically to focus on his life before meeting Emma, he juxtaposes her with a pretentious, self-absorbed woman with whom he once had a fling. He devotes the entirety of “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” to insulting everything about her, from her malaprops to her “petty vogue ideas.” While Tillman has quite the silver tongue when it comes to insults, he can sometimes take his disdain for others too far, as on the drunkenly sauntering “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow.” The song finds him inebriated, cocky, and blowing up at a woman who has hit on him at a bar. His bitter worldview culminates on “Bored in the USA,” a counterpoint to Springsteen's masculine patriotism. The piano ballad is a life in the day of the mindless public that Tillman has grown fed up with (“by this afternoon I’ll live in debt / by tomorrow be replaced by children”). The song ends with a cynical laugh track cackling at his despair as Tillman cries out “save me White Jesus!” sounding more sarcastic and jaded than ever.
At the core of I Love You, Honeybear is Tillman’s wife Emma, however. After wading through all of its comical scorn, the album ends on the gentle ode to his wife, “I Went to the Store One Day.” He sheds his disdainful exterior after being floored by the woman he meets in a chance encounter while running errands. Tremolo string chords accompany a fingerpicked acoustic guitar on the album’s most stripped down version of his folk instrumentation. It’s a lovely homage, almost completely devoid of the defensive sarcasm that Tillman usually uses to shield himself from the embarrassment of writing love songs. While his lyrical wit is usually what gets I Love You, Honeybear rated so highly, Tillman humanizes himself on the last track, which serves as the perfect punctuation mark to one of the most fun albums of the year.