Top albums 2015 advent calendar: Day 23
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Sub Pop/Bella Union
It's hard to quantify the amount of things that love has inspired in the human race, but no matter how many there are, it's a source of vitality so rich as to never run dry so long as the meaning is true and the expression is passionate. Father John Misty's second album I Love You, Honeybear is testament to that.
Josh Tillman's first album Father John Misty was all about his transformation from J. Tillman to the more open-minded and outgoing shamanistic character. I Love You, Honeybear is also all about transformation; that of becoming a lover, a couple, a duality - and all the emotions that come with that. Tillman understands that the best way to get across the pure joy of his feelings is to be completely honest, starting with the album's title and opening line. The song takes us voyeuristically into the bedroom ("the Rorschach sheets where we made love," "naked, getting high on the mattress") and ultimately expressly states that this love is enough to make him ready to face the end of the world. On the second track he opens up about his wife's character in astutley cute little digs ("Emma eats bread and butter like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine") and then before long we're back in the bedroom with "While You're Smiling and Astride Me" - a song more about the glory of true happiness than that of the short lived physical feeling suggested in its title.
Of course this current happiness allows him to look back scathingly on his previous debauched lifestyle, and through his music he can reinhabit and expand that character. The self-refencing "The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt." is a scathing take-down of a sexual partner, but the title of the song suggests he knows full well how pompous and self-righteous he's being, and the song's strutting folky lilt and his troubadour delivery add to this. The staggering, jaunty gait of "Nothing Good Ever Happens At The God Damn Thirsty Crow" paints the sleazy bar scene on a typical night where everyone's hitting on everyone else, and sex is in the air - Misty in the midst of it all sloppily remonstrating. "Strange Encounter" and "The Ideal Husband" both detail evenings when things went awfully close to going completely off the rails; in the former a hookup nearly overdoses and dies in his house, while the latter ends up with FJM on a woman's front lawn screaming for her to marry him.
I Love You, Honeybear ultimately comes back around to its universal themes; the fear of the future of the world and the power of love to get us through these dark times. "Bored In The USA" finds Tillman taking his smart alec attitude and applying it to the current financial crisis, prescription drug dependency and the necessary ennui that sets in in the face of these predicaments, complete with ironic laugh track. "Holy Shit" is aptly named as Tillman goes through a list of all the things that plague him and just about everyone else when we look at the news ("new regimes, old ideals," "age-old gender roles"), but once he's got it all off his chest he comes to the sane conclusion: "what I fail to see is what that's gotta do with you and me"; he realises that his world is secure as long as he and his wife are together.
We end up with "I Went To The Store One Day," which retells the meeting of his wife with the kind of perspective and grace as of an elderly man on his deathbed looking back on 50 years of long and happy marriage. It's a truly golden song that shines with the light of the energy between the two people at its centre, and is the perfect way to remind everyone that a life changing, world-brightening moment could come around at any time.
Have I bought this album?: Of course. I didn't get the ultra delux one with the pop up figures and musical innards though - but perhaps that was good because apparently those got warped in transit!
Oneohtrix point never - garden of delete
Garden of Delete is Daniel Lopatin's seventh (or so) album as Oneohtrix Point Never, and although it is still distinctly an OPN album - globules of synth, disorienting arrangements, materialistic sheen - it also marks a clear delineation from his earlier work. The music making up his previous releases could be more easily described as compositions, what with their amorphous construction and extended lengths, but on Garden of Delete we clearly have a set of songs. This is largely due to the fact that this time Lopatin has put a living breathing character at the centre of his music, someone that actually has a voice and things to say; not that you'd be able to decode any of them without the lyrics sheet.
The protagonist of Garden Of Delete is an adolescent alien named Ezra who is going around experiencing life on Planet Earth and quickly becomes disillusioned with his life. This may sound more like a David Bowie type setup, but the execution is firmly in Lopatin's own unique hand. As mentioned previously, the palette used to make up the soundscapes on Garden of Delete doesn't vary too much from what was heard on previous albums, but this time with the emotional core the songs have much more aggression and pointedness to them than his previously largely-serene output.
After being introduced to our hero on "Ezra" in an expansive plain of reverbed guitars and plush keyboards we're soon transported into his first entanglement with depression and desire on "Sticky Drama." While several of the lyrics may be incomprehensible ("potassi uhmmm? / dagger prometheus / time after time") you can't understand them anyway, since Lopatin's vocals are so expertly crushed and warped to obscure any individual syllables, but the anguish and fury comes across in the outcry as it crests on top of rapid-fire burst of violent synths and eerily teasing melodies.
Garden Of Delete also has an insanely deep and gelatinous low-end. Songs like "Mutant Standard" take this sludge-like bass as a canvas and then takes tricky breakbeats and smoothly rounded synths and slides them across it. And then it can change tact at any moment, like a sudden mood swing, propelling itself into an ascendant march of intertwining mechanical percussion. The album's two mid-point big picture statments, "Mutant Standard" and "Child Of Rage," favour this non-linear method of attack, and swirl around perfectly crafted analogue synth sounds to give a busy and glistening vision. In both cases, rather than use compressed vocals, they make ruthless use of well-chosen samples to give us an idea of Ezra learning about human experience from an outside perspective.
The latter part of the album is where Ezra really starts to express his rage and hopelessness; from the profoundly miserable squeal that illuminates his heart on the spaced-out paranoid ballad "Animals," to the outright rage and destructive "I Bite Through It," which musters up an obliterating set of percussive elements to really hammer home the aggression in his mind. The album ends with "No Good" in which Ezra finally decides he doesn't fit in this world and must depart; the song sounds like a Kanye West slow-burner that's been completely torn to pieces, warped and defaced, then stuck back together in a misshapen but impressive and affecting send-off.
Garden of Delete is strange in that if you put it on in the background and don't pay proper attention, it will strike you as a messy, oblique, aggressive and largely inhospitable. However, if you listen properly and focus on the way the songs have been carefully constructed you'll come to appreciate how Lopatin has meticulously produced them to fully realise the alienation of our protagonist and the greed and falseness of his surroundings. It's an album that does in fact have a warmth and human sensibility, and if you let yourself get swept up and engage in the innate ludicrousness of this method of expression, then you might find yourself being transported to somewhere really quite profound and interesting.
Have I bought this album?: Had to, the depth of the sound demands to be heard on wax.