Craig Finn (the Hold Steady) Shares His Favorite Father John Misty Tracks
Singer-songwriter Craig Finn (the Hold Steady) is a huge fan of Josh Tillman’s alter ego, Father John Misty. So, to celebrate Misty’s new record, Pure Comedy, we had Finn compile a playlist of his favorite FJM tracks.
“I’m Writing a Novel”
I want to start here because this is the first FJM song I heard. I listened to it over and over for about a month. It’s funny, absurd and really cutting, which I love. I think it’s still the first thing I would play for someone who hadn’t heard his music. There are a ton of great lines in this, but my favorite today is: “Now everywhere I go in West Hollywood/It’s filled with people pretending they don’t see the actress/and the actress wishing that they could.”
“The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment”
I love the meta aspect of this song: using his real name and telling a story about a post-show encounter. He doesn’t really like his companion, but that’s who is around at that point in the evening. It speaks to the transient life of a musician; he will be on the road the next day, his hosts will be hungover.
This one feels like it’s coming from a television station about to go off the air for the evening. Comedy is a funny thing, and comedians are notoriously depressed. Father John Misty’s good for some laughs for sure, but it’s often an uneasy laughter. And as much as I like the humor and the tone, it has to be mentioned how well he sings. I think a lot of these songs might crumble if he wasn’t able to deliver them in his singular way. Which is to say: I would advise any young artists to stay away from FJM covers. Dangerous territory.
“When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay”
With the apocalypse approaching, FJM retains his wit in heavy times. The lyric “If this isn’t hell already then tell me what the hell is” makes me smile. But the really effective ghostly backup voices still scare me quite a bit. I tend to dig songs with biblical nods, and this is a great one.
“Only Son of the Ladiesman”
One of the awesome things about Father John Misty is the sensuality that he brings to his songs. He is not scared of singing about sex, and doesn’t back away from it. This one from the first record seemed almost like a dare when put against a lot of contemporary indie music. The performance he did of this song on Letterman backed it up to the max, and is one of the best music performances I’ve seen on television.
“Funtimes in Babylon”
This one seems really timeless, like it could have been recorded at any time in the last century. The backup vocals make it especially elegant, and I think that elegance is a big part of why I love FJM records, putting this beauty against heavy and sometimes brutal lyrics.
It’s thirteen minutes long and some critics will say it’s too long, but I think that’s the point. It’s a long story. To me it’s an ambitious and shocking piece about change and changing. He seems committed to leaving LA on this, but regretful at the same time. “The manufactured gasp of the final days” is poetic and terrifying. Throughout it all he’s always self-aware and knows how he looks as the narrator, and therein lies a lot of his power.
I love the sparseness of this track, the way the blips and slow piano chords hang in the background while the vocal melody soars like the titular bird. Like the rest of FJM’s catalog, the production is stellar, and creates a mood that allows the story to connect with maximum impact. There is a cinematic quality about all this music that is especially apparent here.
The whole back half of the I Love You, Honeybear album is really spectacular; I sort of think it as apiece, maybe like the b-side of Abbey Road. This one connects everything in a big picture way, seemingly jumping out of the TV news with a list of modern ailments and pressing concerns. “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity…” Yeah, maybe it is.
“Bored in the USA”
This one stunned me when I first heard it and it continues to blow me away each time. It’s an amazing reflection on the modern condition, and it makes me laugh and wince at the same time. The laugh track that comes in at the end of this is strangely chilling. An incredible song that I like to imagine as a much later, much sadder retort to the Clash’s “I’m So Bored with the USA.”
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