Father John Misty + Frank Ocean: Best New Music
by Weston Cutter
I was turned onto Father John Misty (FJM) through both Aquarium Drunkard and John Gallaher’s blog, the former with a track from FJM and Phosphorescent, the second with an enthusiastic mention and a clip of FJM’s Letterman show, which I’ll just put here as well:
Here’s the background, before getting into too much: Father John Misty is a debut record of sorts by Josh/J Tillman, the former drummer of Fleet Foxes. That stuff’s largely not much significant. What is is that Tillman apparently left Seattle, drove down the Pacific Coast, and ended up in Laurel Canyon, which, if you know your American musicology, is the site of sort of jangly early-70′s stuff. Tillman’s said that he also happened to have enough mushrooms to choke a horse, though I think the aura of some drug-addled dude making a record’s far off the mark (this interview, for instance, is a good template-clearer by FJM/Tillman re drug use and the record). There have been other solo albums by Tillman (whose younger brother, as an aside, is Zach Tillman, he of the phenomenal Pearly Gate Music), but nothing like this.
Because what this is—this being Fear Fun—is an album that’s its own weird sort of reality. Watch the video above from Letterman: there’s a narrative going on, this son-of-a-ladies-man thing that Tillman-through-FJMisty is channeling or articulating or whatever. This is music which is actively attempting to make clear or articulate its forebearers, often in the actual music (in “I’m Writing a Novel” there’s a character named Neal, and one’d be probably safe in guessing it’s a Cassady reference). What Fear Fun—with production that digsuises what would otherwise sound exactly like a 1974 album by someone in California—sounds like, fascinatingly, is someone creating something just new: the other music Tillman’s made may or may not have much to do with how this one came about—and, frustratingly, even the bullshit enough-shrooms-to-choke-a-horse bit is a headfake of sorts: who gives a fuck what he took to make this record? It’s not some spazzy Naked Lunch-ish thing, no Lynchian weirdfest. Fear Fun is basically a perfect timecapsule pop album. We can all call it otherwise, indie or folk or whatever, but the shimering Beach-Boys-ish harmonies and the dunka-dunka bass so reminiscent of late 60s/early 70s pop and rock, and the attempt to make some narrative other—featuring this Father John Misty, and Sally Hatchet (“This is Sally Hatchet”), and more—I’d argue make the album this almost perfect 1970s pop album that’s suddenly come out, out of nowhere. It’s a glorious thing. I don’t know if I’ll hear anything better than this in terms of guitar-based pop music this year.
Oh good fucking god. Good lord. I don’t even know how to—. I don’t. There’s this—. There’s SF-Jones@ the NYorker talking up how great this is, and the shadow Drake’s cast and allowed R+B to become what it’s become, and—. There’s nothing like this record. There’s nothing like listening to this record. There no record this year that’ll come close to this record—nothing, at all, will approach the reach and attempt of this album. I’m sorry and thrilled to say that, sorry because Father John Misty, because Sarah Jaffe, because JD McPherson, because lots of records that’ve hit in the past 8 months that I’ve loved but which, I’m sorry, just no. Just nothing. Just listen to this (and know it’s sped up—it’s slower on the album, which you should be purchasing absolutely right this second):
That’s “Bad Religion,” which every place’s mentioned as one of if not the album’s best tracks and the most heart-rending songs I can recall from the last ten years. Easy. What Ocean does so awesomely all through the album is let stakes be stakes: name the last pop musician who’s actually trying to wrestle with aspects and tenets of religion. FOcean’s asking about, demanding clarity regarding, wrestling hoestly with big, big stuff. A friend yesterday attempted to smack down my comment that “Pyramids,” the 9+ minute and maybe most important track on channel ORANGE, is the first thing I’ve heard that honestly seems like it’s trying to get to the epic scope of what MJ was doing on Thriller and “Thriller” (evidence on “Pyramids”: listen to that bass beat; is that not Thriller-like?). This is it then. This is what it comes back to I guess. Maybe I’m old. Maybe it’s not that big a deal. FOcean though is I’d argue trying to do BIGGER things with his music—which music is in the same R+B territory as Prince and Drake and some of Kanye’s stuff—than anyone else working. The last release working on this scale was Kanye’s MBDTF, which was fine, but it was and remains a massively egotistical album—that doesn’t invalidate it or make it bad, it’s just so. Ocean’s channel ORANGE is not at all the work of a massive ego—or maybe it is, but the fact of the ego in the songs is not principal (the fact of Ocean’s sexuality—his letter on Twitter on his first love having been a man—matters not in the least on cO either, unless you need your pronouns to take/adhere to certain flavors). This is just—. This is so much—. This is the best music of this year, over and over, impossibly untoppable. Be thrilled that Ocean makes records fast. Be thrilled that he’s this young and this on fire. There’s no better music being made. It’s just unreal.