Josh Tillman’s eighth solo album (and first as Father John Misty) comes after some four years behind the kit for Fleet Foxes and is literally dusty with passim regarding down-trodden, drunken misadventure. Not of the Nilsson or MacGowan variety though, more along the lines of John Grant and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ Alexander Ebert sitting on a kerb drinking whiskey from a white-label plastic bottle. “Look out Hollywood, here I come” he sings on the album’s opener, ‘Funtimes in Babylon’, but you get the impression his visit there didn’t go to plan. The album meanders between despair and confusion but never really fails to offer up melodies swollen with feeling.
Thankfully, Tillman does this without letting his his brand of country-tinged folk dip below mild consternation on the sadness stakes. Arguably the album’s strongest track, ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery’, opens with the memorable line “Jesus Christ, girl, what are people gonna think?”, showing Tillman at his beleaguered and road-weary best. ‘Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2’ offers yet more of his hazy, bluesy aesthetic and the blend of keys and slide guitar work to great effect to keep the listener primed for yet more of his stories.
All in all this is an assured offering from a young folk veteran and is more-or-less filler free ( maybe with the exception of ‘This is Sally Hatchet’ and ‘Tee Pees 1-12’ ). Fear Fun relies heavily on rhythm but never at the expense of melody or Tillman’s vocal timbre, which undulates from high and restrained ( ‘Well, You Can do it Without Me) to rich and soulful ( ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery’). There are also some very diverse elements of influence here, from Grant’s high emotion through to Roy Orbison and Lindsey Buckingham but Tillman seems to deliver his tracks from a position of here-we-go-again indifference. This is no bad thing, however, as country folk music almost insists on simplicity and Tillman manages to adhere to this. That said, there’s a lot to be said for bucking trends and Father John Misty might someday want to consider making a run for some higher musical ground. While he’s in the valley, however, he might as well stay down and dirty.