‘I Love You, Honeybear’ wrestles with sincerity and cynicism

Who is Josh Tillman? The former Fleet Foxes drummers has released solo work under the name J. Tillman, creating soft folk-ballads about life and love.

His last album as J. Tillman was 2010’s Singing Ax. Since then Tillman has adopted the persona of Father John Misty.

As Father John Misty, Tillman released 2012’s Fear Fun, wherein he showed his unique ability for crafting gorgeous psychedelic-tinged folk songs where he reveled in his psilocybin-influenced debauchery.

Describing himself as “a one night stand / I’m a ladies man” in Fear Fun’s “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” Father John Misty finds himself tackling his own perceptions of himself on his new album I Love You, Honeybear, released Feb. 10 on Sub Pop Records.

Josh Tillman is a married man now, and I Love You, Honeybear is essentially a concept album about his wife, Emma, and his personal journey to reclaim himself. Sincerity and intimacy were themes glossed over throughout Fear Fun, but they play a crucial role in Honeybear.

In the album, Tillman hides himself behind cynicism and impeccable wit, making his music a Rorschach test of his own and forcing listeners to draw their own conclusions about who Josh Tillman really is.

The highest praise of Honeybear is the feeling of completeness it leaves with you. Every song from the piano led “Bored in the U.S.A.” to synth-based “True Affection,” and the psychedelic come down rock of “Ideal Husband,” stand on their own.

It’s the sort of album where it would feel incomplete if any of the songs were missing, but every song could survive as a single, too.

Trying to decipher Josh Tillman through his lyrics on Honeybear is difficult, bringing to mind a little bit of Ariel Pink’s presentation of himself on last year’s Pom Pom.

Upon first listen, Tillman’s lyrics might come off as entirely ironic. In another listen, those same lyrics might be interpreted as some big, self-revealing revelation.

Honeybear is both mocking and openhearted, often at the same time.

“Bored in the U.S.A.” has Tillman apathetically singing “they gave me a useless education / and a subprime loan / on a craftsman home / keep my prescriptions filled / and now I can’t get off” to an audience’s applause between each line.

It’s equal parts satirical and sad, a dichotomy which repeats itself often throughout Honeybear.

On “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment,” Tillman chides a different woman, not his honey bear Emma.

“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / and the malapropos make me want to fucking scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means/ Well, it’s literally not that.”

Honeybear can be as funny as a stand-up comedy special, and Tillman’s sharp humor combines with his attempts at sincerity throughout the album in magnificent ways.

Songs like “Holy Shit,” “Ideal Husband” and album closer “I Went to the Store One Day” are some of his purest love songs, though he might not describe them as love songs himself.

“I Went To The Store One Day” is an ode to his wife in which he sings about their first meeting in a parking lot.

“Say, do you wanna get married / and put an end to our endless progressive tendency to scorn / Provincial concepts like your dowry and your daddy’s farm? / for love to find us of all people / I never thought it’d be so simple.”

For a psychedelic drifter with a tendency for wordiness like Tillman, he’s rather understated about the whole thing.