Father John Misty, also known as Josh Tillman, has been quiet as he released his newest LP God’s Favorite Customer into the world. This isn’t the path he’s taken before, but this time the music does all the talking. And boy, does it talk.
Late last year, Tillman told Uncut that his newest album was “written in a six-week period where I was kind of on the straights…” and that it’s a “heartache” album. God’s Favorite Customer is less than half the length of his 2017 LP Pure Comedy but the details are still there, Tillman’s verbose nature still intact. The lines swing around each other, growling and swooning. And his usual commentary on society has been swapped out for the personal, and his acid tongue is now turned inward.
The first single “Mr. Tillman” details a life lived alone in a hotel. “Is there someone we can call? / Perhaps you shouldn’t drink alone.” Its accompanying music video is dark and trippy, where Tillman is a part of and witness to his own death, a short plummet off the hotel roof onto the taxi he’s a passenger in and driving.
“I don’t want to talk about what happened,” he told Uncut and he hasn’t since. But the lyrics on “Just Dumb Enough To Try” is where he’s sharing his story, a story of holding onto something that’s probably already gone: “But I'm just dumb enough to try / To keep you in my life / For a little while longer / And I'm insane enough to think / I'm gonna get out with my skin / And start my life again.” Tillman moans these lines elongating the chills they give you. I belt out the lyrics with him, nearly starting to cry. But there’s more happening here: “You can take what I know about love / and drown it in the sink.”
All those songs he wrote when he found and fell in love with his wife, his sophomore LP I Love You, Honeybear (2015) is a wonderful collection of falling. But it’s a satire of love: holding hands, making love, sharing drugs, buying a house and settling down because—GASP—love can be real! To hear that record is to fall in love alongside Tillman (and with him). But now it feels like a beginning with an end in place. Tracks from I Love You, Honeybear like “The Ideal Husband,” “I Went To The Store One Day” (where the chance encounter happened), and the title track are now a love that’s fallen apart.
The narrative of his album arc has changed.
Listen to the inflection of his tone on “Date Night.” He’s pissed off and clearly spending a lot of time alone: “I didn’t get invited / but I know where to go.” The banging on the piano here is reminiscent of The Stooges’ classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The energy is all over the place.
He slows down to full speed sadness on “The Palace” and really melts into a puddle, singing: “I text your iPhone / I said I think I’m ready to come home / I’m in over my head.” The song is slow and churning, the piano doing a lot of the feeling as he caresses the keys. The sound of subtle rain is in the background as he sings the closing line over and over, “I’m over my head.”
In another single, “Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All,” the phrases are long but the stanzas short. The length of these tracks are in their musicianship: textured layers, many timbres, and plunging instrumental passages leaving just enough room for swaying alone in your kitchen, on the subway, or alone in the car. And you’re most definitely alone. To listen to this album with others feels almost like a betrayal to the story.
The title of the record itself feels cheesy, like a clickbait headline. But you’ll change your mind. There’s a female voice in the latter half of the backing chorus and it sounds like an echo of his mind, or of his wife’s, as he sings “speak to me / sweet angel / don’t you remember me?”
The tracks are so tidy and to the point, detailing what Tillman is going through in the darkest, loneliest of his emotions. He is a raw ball of nerves on “The Songwriter.” It almost sounds as if these lyrics are coming from another person, close to Tillman, who wants no running commentary, who wants to be left alone: “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter / And you did your living around me? / Would you undress me repeatedly in public / To show how very noble and naked you can be?”
As a critic and a fan, it’s all here: “Don't forget / I'm the only fan of yours who has the sense to ever leave you be.”
The face value, for me, comes in the end of the Claymation music video for “Please Don’t Die.” A female figure rescues Tillman as the dead try to pull him into his own grave. “You’re all that I have,” he repeats, “so please don’t die / wherever you are tonight.” Does she save him in real life? How do I swallow the lyric “our love will never die” on “Disappointing Diamonds,” if that’s the case?
All of this is pure speculation about his marriage, which is of course none of anyone’s business. But at the same time we’ve been invited in here, so it’s hard not to juggle the emotions with Tillman. He is one of the few people I’m aware of who can name his feelings as he’s aware of them. It’s not an easy task and his ability to do so relaxes me and makes me feel less alone. Even if he’s unsure, he’s unafraid of his demons as he’s steady.
The self-restraint outside of the songs is a nice change of pace. But we’ll literally have to wait and see what happens next, and hope that he’s still willing to share.
Notable Tracks: “Date Night” | “Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest of Them All” | “Just Dumb Enough To Try” | “The Palace”