Father John Misty’s most recent LP release I Love You Honeybear somehow pulls off everything that usually peeves me in contemporary folk-rock albums. It’s nothing short of miraculous. The album begins with the title track: a ballad that opens with acoustic guitar strums and plinkety keys before a string section enters—closely followed by percussion— swelling into the first verse. Here’s the thing about using strings in pop or rock songs: you better fucking do it right. It’s a bold move and one that’s been done a million times before, but more than that, it either makes or breaks a song—there’s no in between. For decades people have been trying to incorporate strings with either great success or absolute failure (think Nick Drake on one end of the spectrum versus mid-career Lana Del Rey on the latter), and Father John succeeds because he never lets the swells become too grandiose but never takes himself too seriously.
Folky albums all too often suffer from incessant repetition; it becomes hard to listen to the album in its entirety because each song sounds too much like the one before it. By the third song on I Love You Honeybear, though, Father John throws a wrench in the mix—the brilliant, unexpected wrench that is automated drum machines. The first time I listened to the album, I pretty much freaked out when the track, “True Affection” came on. He keeps the strings in the mix, but layers a synthetic kit, the combination of which almost sounds like something from 808s and Heartbreak.
On top of his clever arrangements and pretty melodies, Father John is just plain funny. Usually, attempts at humor woven too constantly into music just piss me off (think Childish Gambino), but once again Father John manages the implausible. His humor is dark and dirty and honestly plain weird (he uses a laugh track on “Bored in the USA”—it’s amazing), but, like, the album as a whole, it just works. If someone had described all these aspects of I Love You Honeybear to me, I probably would have dismissed it, but I’m glad I gave it a listen because, as it turns out, Father John seems to possess some mystical ability to turn worn-out clichés into sonic gold.