This is All That Glitters is Gold, a recurring piece about some of my favorite artists, albums, tracks, and live shows. Here I will write about the music I love, most of which inspired me to start Alt Revue in the first place. I'm excited to highlight this music and talk about how it has impacted me. I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse into some of my favorites!
(Photo Credit - Emma Tillman)
I'd like to talk about my favorite artist on the alt scene right now—Father John Misty. I want to do a dive into his critically acclaimed 2012 album Fear Fun. Fear Fun came after Father John Misty had stopped releasing music as J. Tillman, which he did from 2003-2010 (for a deep dive into that music, see my piece, Who Was J. Tillman?) and had quit the band Fleet Foxes, where he served as drummer. This album marked a profound change in his sound and his artistic direction. It took off with the alt community as Father John Misty became an enigmatic force within the genre. He's been prolific in releasing albums since he adopted his new moniker, having dropped four studio releases and one live album between 2012-2018. With all that in mind, let's jump in to where it all started for Father John Misty. Let's dissect Fear Fun.
Fear Fun is a great album overall and might just have the strongest intro of songs on any album I've ever heard. The first five tracks: "Funtimes in Babylon"; "Nancy From Now On"; "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"; "I'm Writing a Novel"; and "O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me," might just be the strongest five consecutive songs I've heard on one studio release. The album kicks off with "Funtimes in Babylon", which heavily features Misty's vocals in a haunting but fierce tone. Melodically, the song is brighter, but its lyrics don't match its brighter musical tones. One of my favorite lines from the song that illustrates this is the second verse: "Fun times in Babylon / Momma they've just begun / Before they put me to work in a government camp / Before they do my face up like a corpse and say "get up and dance"/ Before the beast comes looking for last year's rent."
"Nancy from Now On" is hilarious, heartbreaking, and sublime all in one. The music begins slowly with the primary focus being on Misty's vocals. The first verse, which has now become forever linked with Misty is a mashup of comedy and terror. It reads: "Oh, pour me another drink / And punch me in the face / You can call me Nancy / Every man wears a symbol / And I know I have mine / I've got my right hand stamped / In the concentration camp where my organs scream 'slow down, man.'" The song evokes heartbreak in the line "I'll put away a few / And pretty soon I'll be breaking things I have of you." I'm sure a number of us have put a way a few and destroyed things that reminded us of past loves.
"Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" was released well in advance of Fear Fun and had a video that featured Aubrey Plaza and Father John Misty throughout. The storytelling in this track is more narrative in this song, which more closely resembles the famous music video (which I've included in this piece). Musically, the percussion is strong throughout, as is the guitar work. It drives like a funeral march throughout the track. It's haunting and beautiful at the same time.
A track that isn't referenced enough for its greatness in the Misty canon is "Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2". It's a wonderful jam that incorporates elements of alt, folk, and country together into something magnificent. It's a song that's lyrically filled with humor and struggle. Misty references losing his hand in a fireworks disaster. He also repeatedly references a need to take his life back.
A prominent song in Misty's music catalog is "Only Son of the Ladiesman". The lyrics twist Misty's cynical take on players, which he writes about darkly: "Couldn't see his used up body at the funeral / By virtue of the flailing of his conquests / They tied down his casket with the garter belt / Each troubled heart was beating in a sequin dress / Someone must console these lonesome daughters / No written word or ballad will appease them." In typical Father John Misty fashion, he turns the thing on it's head by having the narrator desire to become a ladies man himself: "I swear that man was womankind's first husband / They all died in a line to save him / I'm a steady hand, I'm a Dodger's fan / I'm a leading brand, I'm one night stand / I'm a ladiesman / Oh some ladiesman / Oh some ladiesman."
Another one of my favorite songs on the album is "Now I'm Learning to Love the War". Here, Misty attacks humans and their environmental waste and lack of response to it. Interestingly, he takes aim at something he directly benefits from: "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." He is critical of our need to own objects. "Lets just call this what it is / The jealous side of mankind's death wish / When it's my time to go / Gonna leave behind things that won't decompose." Misty concludes the track with a bit of existential thought: "I'll just call this what it is / My vanity gone wild with my crisis / One day this all will repeat / I sure hope they make something useful out of me" This biting lyric, particularly the ending would go on to be a trope that Misty has returned to often. He often engages in existential thought about society and individual roles within it. Often he comes to the conclusion that he's ultimately powerless in the end, hence lines like "I sure hope they make something useful out of me."
Think about this...this was Josh Tillman's reintroduction to the world as Father John Misty. He took such bold steps musically compared to his past work, going beyond the use of a full band and implementing eclectic instrumentation. His lyrics touch on the absurd, the hilarious, and of course, with some criticism for society as Misty saw fit. For a reintroduction for some and as an introduction for many, I don't know that you could have gone as bold as Misty did with Fear Fun. He hasn't stopped since and I think that's what draws people to him. He's not afraid to go there lyrically and he's witty and funny. He's by far one of, if not the most talented lyricists out there in alt music today. Before I wrap up, I want to let you know I've included a video of Father John Misty playing some tracks from Fear Fun on acoustic. It's worth a watch.