At the beginning of this year, we found out that Josh Tillman was leaving Fleet Foxes, the band that he had been with since 2008 on the sweet voyage down the path of success. Nevertheless, his personal career dates back much further (counting this one, he has recorded eight albums) and it didn’t seem to make much sense to think that he was deserting the group to focus on a career that was already on course. The real reason behind his leaving has never been entirely clear and, beyond a succinct farewell press release in which he apologised if he had been “obtuse and distant”, he has barely said anything at all about the subject. Today, trying to shed some light on this issue, we found these declarations of his:
“Song-writing for me had always only been interesting and necessary because I saw it as this vehicle for truth, but I had this realization that all I had really done with it was lick my wounds for years and years, and become more and more isolated from people and experiences. I don’t even like wound-licking music. I don’t believe that until now I’ve ever put anything at risk in my music. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about.”
Various conclusions can be drawn from this confession and all of them point towards a great truth: Tillman seems to have found the solution for many of these headaches with this new work.
In this sense, “Fear Fun” is like a philosopher’s stone for him. An album in which he breathes deeply, getting rid of the bad air and letting in the fresh. Its release practically coincides with the debut of Poor Moon (another brilliant parallel project of Foxes Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott), and after the absolute consolidation of the mother band with “Helplessness Blues”; even so, the album easily shows itself to be our man’s most accomplished work to date. Re-christened, a bit tongue-in-cheek, as Father John Misty, Tillman shows a greater essentialism and cohesion here than on his other titles, albums that always claimed to be “albums of songs”. All of the cuts press with the same strength, without any drops in pressure. The repertoire is compact and stealthy, allowing any of the adjectives from that long, well-chosen list that we use to describe the sonic nectar of Fleet Foxes: lyrically lovely, oceanic and solemn, eloquent, profound, with delightful harmonies, soothing, timeless…
In the time evoked from the heart of the songs, echoes of healing singers resound: vocal twangs of Roy Orbison, aquatic reflections of the best Dennis Wilson and shadows of George Harrison (“Every Man Needs A Companion”). Alongside these classic names, Jonathan Wilson’s also stands out, the author of that great pastoral Americana tapestry called “Gentle Spirit” (2011), the man in charge of giving “Fear Fun” a production rich in details and instrumental nuances. The mixing was handled by another specialist in smoothing the rough edges of folk-rock, Phil Ek. And deep down, there is another fact that must be mentioned, even if you’d rather not: the album was recorded while Tillman was living in Laurel Canyon, a Los Angeles corner of 60s counterculture and bohemia. It was there that he recovered from the depression that he was dragging around just before he started writing the album, and it was where he perfected that accomplished narrative voice with which he plays at cross-dressing between one song and another. He perfected it partly thanks to the book that he is writing, which he speaks about in “Writing A Novel”. All of the songs bear the mark of a man who sits on the porch watching how the wind blows in the grass, and then later heads off into the night to socialise with solitary women. “Now I’m Learning To Love The War” could have saved more than one life in the days of Vietnam, “Tee-Pee’s 1-12” seems to hold some sort of indirect reference (like on “This Is Sally Hatchet”, with its Beatles side) and there are moments to swing back and forth between the Hollywood of the stars (“Fun Times In Babylon”) and that of fallen angels (“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Signs”). These are only some examples from a distinguished work at the head of the pack of this season’s great folk exercises.