Self-awareness and sincerity have always been crucial tools of the singer-songwriter trade, which is why it was so refreshing when Josh Tillman exploded onto the scene with Fear Fun, his 2012 LP as Father John Misty. After years toiling away in Seattle peddling his self-described "sad wizard songs," here was an album filled with fun and linguistic frivolity, with Tillman waxing poetic about war, waste and his own mortality, all within just one soulful song about mankind's obsession with oil ("Now I'm Learning to Love the War"). Throw in the jokes he'd pepper his live show with, and Tillman was quickly becoming the Grand Fool of folk rock.
Now, everything has changed. Inspired by the life and love he's created with his wife Emma, and the ways in which he shed his self-infatuated, swagger-y lothario persona and learned to accept love in his life, I Love You, Honeybear is an 11-song treatise on becoming a sentimental human being in an increasingly vapid world, one in which love can be found with a click of the mouse or a swipe of the screen. The themes are universal, yet its subject matter and ways in which the album executed are deeply personal, making this a truly resonant record.
This is a gorgeous album, one whose pure beauty and unadulterated emotion — the un-forced flamenco feel and sweeping strings of "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)," for example — can't help but be evened out by some bawdy escapades (it's hard to think of anyone making the words "mascara, blood, ash and cum" sound as sexy as he does on the album's opener). Still, Tillman gives listeners ample amounts of sugar and schmaltz to wash all the bitter and lewd moments of I Love You, Honeybear out of their mouths (the Postal Service-esque "True Affection" is jarring at first, but a true highlight).
Once a Henry Miller-esque wannabe at the mic, Tillman is a new man by album's end, candidly crooning about meeting his future wife in the most mundane fashion — in a parking lot while going to the convenience store — on the aptly titled "I Went to the Store One Day." It's a simple but perfect finale to this lush and vivid tale of love conquering all inner demons, making the rest of the album even more memorable by proxy. But the tales in I Love You, Honeybear are told in a non-chronological order, and because of this, it's in an earlier number, "When You're Smiling and Astride Me," in which we see Tillman's true redemption from his old, narcissistic ways: "You see me as I am, it's true/ Aimless, fake drifter, and the horny man-child momma's boy to boot," he sings passionately to his partner. "That's how you live free/ Truly see and be seen."
Truly, Tillman's intentions and feelings as a songwriter have never seemed so clear. (Sub Pop)