On 2012's Fear Fun, Josh Tillman introduced audiences to Father John Misty, a jaded and erudite, faux-bohemian retro-pop confectioner with a strong surrealist bent and an aptitude for capturing the American zeitgeist via wry couplets concerning the culturally and morally ambiguous wasteland of southern California. That penchant for gutter-highbrow confessionalism still looms large on his second long player, the lyrically and musically bold, and often quite beautiful, I Love You, Honeybear, but the drug-addled, disaffected Laurel Canyon drifter who served as the cruise director on Fear Fun has been replaced by a man trying to come to terms with the discombobulating effects of love, especially as it applies to his nihilistic alter-ego, which is mercilessly stripped of that ego throughout the 11-song set. The newly married Tillman is not incapable of self-effacing satire (witness the exhaustive "Exercises for Listening" instructional pamphlet, which is worth the price of the album alone), but he peppers those bone-wry moments ("I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in," from the dizzying, weepy strings and cavernous percussion-laden title cut) with instances of real soulful brevity ("For love to find us of all people/I'd never thought it'd be so simple," from the exquisite, sparse, heartfelt closer "I Went to the Store One Day") -- the ballsy "Ideal Husband," a frantic laundry list of past digressions, best supports both predilections. Produced with great care once again by Jonathan Wilson, Honeybear has the architecture of its predecessor, but features braver melodic choices, and at a pure pop level, is the far more challenging LP of the two, but it rewards the listener constantly, whether it's delivering the yin and the yang via electro-pop tomfoolery ("True Affection"), '70s soul-pop schmaltz ("When You're Smiling and Astride Me"), or straight-up Randy Newman-inspired socio/political balladry ("Bored in the USA"), the latter of which even manages to incorporate a laugh track. Whether Tillman is maturing into the Father John Misty persona or vice versa is still up for debate, but there's no denying his growth as an artist, and I Love You, Honeybear, despite the occasional double entendre, is as powerful a statement about love in the vacuous, social media-obsessed early 21st century as it is a denouement of the detached hipster charlatan.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger
feat: Josh Tillman