Fleet Foxes' super-prolific drummer Joshua Tillman also released the solo albums
I Will Return (Keep Recordings, 2005),
Long May You Run (Keep Recordings, 2006),
Minor Works (Fargo, 2006),
Cancer & Delirium (Yer Bird, 2007),
Vacilando Territory Blues (Western Vinyl, 2009),
Year in the Kingdom (2009).
At his best, he drew from the desperate verve of Neil Young and early Van Morrison to paint a series of disturbing self-portraits at the pace of scorching
albeit spartan blues-rock, folk-rock and soul-rock.
The Fleet Foxes'
Helplessness Blues (SubPop, 2011) was much more traditional than the
first one, almost a tribute to
old-fashioned folk-rock of the 1960s with
quaint acoustic instruments and simple domestic melodies.
The quasi-yodeling croon and doo-wop harmonies of Montezuma feel
like the Everly Brothers dropped into a cocktail lounge.
The cosmopolitan raga-psychedelic dance Bedouin Dress feels
like a suddenly energized Simon & Garfunkel,
and the spartan Blue Spotted Tail
exudes the innocence of early Donovan.
In theory the musical mood ranges from the lively and stomping
Battery Kinzie (perhaps the most immediate song of the lot) to the
ecstatic/impressionistic The Plains/Bitter Dancer, with a balanced peak
in the dreamy country elegy Lorelei.
In practice, too many of the songs are faceless, and even the better ones are hard to
tell from each other: this is just lulling background muzak for summer picnics.
The Cascades apes new-age music's take on Celtic music (and makes
new-age music sound like avantgarde).
The booming Grown Ocean apes orchestral pop without the orchestra.
Others are plain aimless and confusing, like Helplessness Blues that
neurotically changes personality a few times, never
quite finding an interesting one, or like the eight-minute The Shrine/an Argument, that tries to rescue its monotonous cry at first with martial pomp, then with a church-like invocation, and finally with free-jazz ostentation.
Meanwhile, Joshua Tillman, relocated to Los Angeles,
continued his solo career under a new moniker and a new persona, the
drunk and horny Father John Misty, with Fear Fun (2012),
a collection of vibrant songs, produced by Jonathan Wilson, that rediscover
the realist art of Randy Newman and
including the eccentric and clever parables of
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings (the standout) and
Funtimes in Babylon.
Musically, Tillman doesn't strive to innovate: he's content with
the barrelhouse blues-rock I'm Writing a Novel and
the country singalong Everyman Needs a Companion.
Two members of the Fleet Foxes (Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott) joined brothers Ian and Peter Murray to form Poor Moon that debuted with the EP Illusion (Sub Pop, 2012), sounding a lot like the Fleet Foxes.
The full-length Poor Moon (Sub Pop, 2012) contains mostly slow-motion
filler, over which the Sixties revival pop of Waiting For easily towers,
but it is not exactly revolutionary (in fact thousands of pub bands have songs
like this in their repertory).
Robin Pecknold resurrected the Fleet Foxes for
Crack-Up (Nonesuch, 2017), a much more complex work than anything they
had done before. Missing are the focused heartfelt soulful melodies, replaced by
convoluted multi-layered architectures.
The crux of the album are the two multi-part compositions.
I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar
is only six-minute long, but those six minutes pack an incredible amount
of changes, beginning like a stoned
David Crosby-ian invocation
before the guitar unleashes a torrential minimalist pattern that
spawns vocal harmonies a` la Hollies
that fizzles out into a feeble lament and so on.
The process is akin to the prog-pop of early Genesis.
The nine-minute mini-opera Third of May/ Odaigahara sounds like a Broadway musical paying serial tribute to Neil Young, John Denver and so on, and then inviting on stage Leo Kottke for a solo-guitar improvisation.
There is much confusion, a bit of bombast, and little cohesion in these
The dense arrangements hijack even the simplest melodic ideas, but the results
tend to be more engaging.
Fool's Errand sounds like the Mamas & the Papas arranged by VanDyke Parks before Frank Sinatra steals the microphone for an operatic moonlight croon.
Cassius is wrapped up in the emphatic semi-orchestral arrangements of Brit-pop of the 1990s (the "Madchester" sound in particular).
Mearcstapa evokes the baroque folk-jazz of Van Morrison's Moondance.
Naiads Cassadies borrows the Indian-tinged funereal suspense of the Doors's The End before turning into a laid-back, hummed, country-rock shuffle.
Kept Woman sounds like a Renaissance hymn sung by Simon & Garfunkel while the guitar engages in austere minimalist repetition.
Even the most timid song, the martial Warren Zevon-ian nightmare of If You Need to, Keep Time on me, is both propelled and hampered by its intricate piano work.
The album ends with the mournful march, fanfare and cosmic invocation of Crack-Up, another song that changes skin multiple times.
Meanwhile, Father John Misty continued his witty verbose mission on
the autobiographical concept
I Love You Honeybear (Subpop, 2015), again produced by Jonathan Wilson,
offers more variety but also excessive string arrangements.
Holy Shit is emblematic: for a few minutes is just a passionate song,
but then the strings flood its melody and end up burying it.
At times the albums sounds like the worst of the California sound of the 1970s:
the commercial soul-infected singer-songwriters like Carly Simon and James Taylor (When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment),
the laid-back country-rock bands a` la Eagles
and the last vestiges of Frank Sinatra's generation.
The oddest hybrid is the tex-mex Tamla-soul of Chateau Lobby #4, followed
by the frenzied circus stomp of The Ideal Husband.
The comic Bored in the USA is the song du jour in the mode of Randy Newman.
A Pure Comedy (Subpop, 2017), on the other hand, a far more serious
album from Father John Misty, has several winners
starting with the faux falsetto soul of Ballad of the Dying Man
and the sarcastic Warren Zevon-ian sermon and crescendo Pure Comedy.
Here the piano has become the dialoguing voice and the orchestra has taken
the back seat.
His sociopolitical commentary is uncontrollable and rolls out the
austere Jackson Browne-ian parable When The God Of Love Returns, There’ll Be Hell To Pay,
the environmental anthem Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,
and the effervescent fanfare with Elton John-ian echoes Total Entertainment Forever.
This time, instead of looking deferentially to the worst of the 1970s, he's
trying to match the best, like in
the ten-minute So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain that evokes the spirit of early Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and drowns it in a funereal coda.
The 13-minute Leaving LA (arranged by minimalist composer Gavin Bryars) is a mournful epic in the tradition of
Bob Dylan's Desolation Row,
Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant,
Don McLean's American Pie and Billy Joel's Piano Man.
The stripped-down arrangements greatly benefit his music that avoids the
awkward missteps of Honeybear while still indulging in the occasional
eerie soundscape (Birdie).
God's Favorite Customer (Subpop, 2018), another autobiographical concept
from Father John Misty, abandons the philosophical tones of the previous one
and, at the same time, adopts a Beatles-esque sound.
The orchestral pop Hangout at the Gallows is typical of
Tillman's new course, an elegant combination of
Pink Floyd's Learning To Fly ,
the Beatles' Hey Jude and the usual Elton John.
Date Night sounds like Lady Madonna with electronic distortions.
Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All is John Lennon at his most moronic.
Luckily, the catchiest of the batch, and a quite humorous one, Mr Tillman,
escapes that stereotype and unwinds a great
The Fleet Foxes returned after three years with another set of charming but
conservative ditties, Shore (Anti, 2020).
Robin Pecknold pens sweet melodic fantasias like Sunblind and
and croons the stately pop-soul ballad Can I Believe You
and the ponderous A Long Way Past the Past,
These are tunes that harken back to the golden age of the Brill Building.
Best is probably the breezy Merseybeat-sounding Jara, the outlier.
The second half of the album contains the most touching songs:
the delicate I'm not my Season,
the polyphonic hymn-like Thymia,
and Going-to-the-Sun Road, with funereal and impressionistic phrases of trumpets and trombones.
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