J. Tilman has taken a leave of absence from his position as drummer for Seattle folk rockers Fleet Foxes and headed off into the studio to work on a solo record. Though Tilman has been recording solo records for a while now, Fear Fun is a little different. This time he has decided to adopt a pseudonym, a musical alter ego, the enigmatically titled Father John Misty.
You can draw plenty of comparisons between Fear Fun and the work of Tilman’s former band. The beautiful soaring vocals are still there with harmonies abound. Fear Fun, however, is decidedly more edgy and melancholic. Rather than sun kissed lyrics, there are songs that are decidedly darker, with references to black dogs, cemeteries and funerals. However, in the hands of Tilman they don’t seem morose, or depressing, rather the instrumentation and the vocal help create a real sense of atmosphere and give the record a cinematic feel.
With “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, Tilman has managed to create a song which is a strong contender for song of the year. It’s perhaps the standout track of the record, full of moody atmosphere and dark references. Despite its slight obsession with death, it’s a beautiful track, with a pitch perfect vocal performance. Other highlights include “I’m Writing A Novel” and the atmospheric “Only Son of a Ladiesman”. There’s real mix of sounds and styles on the record, from the beatles-esque vibe of “This is Sally Hatchet” to the more Americana/country style on “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2”.
Fear Fun is incredibly nuanced; it has the advantage of being witty and urbane, without losing its appeal on a more pop level. Tilman is able to draw upon all these different inspirations and style and create a record that is both a joy to listen to and thought provoking. Expect to see this record featuring prominently in those year-end lists.
Review Score: 9.2 out of 10