It’s only when I have a cold that I notice how dirty and dusty New York is. I’ve been told this by the people who have lived here and by the many more who just saw a picture of the city. Somehow when I’m well I can see the condition but not feel it. I once saw a toupee float down a rain gutter but it might as well have been a photo of that hairpiece in a plastic bag. Until I’m sick, that is. When I’m running fever, this place is one long garbage trail from the world’s most forgotten trash can. The condition is transformative.
Being really drunk and miserable at 3 a.m. transforms “Old Country” music for me. I do enjoy old country in the daytime; it’s got a dopey beat that plays off of a day spent running around all happy to be useful. You whistle the hook and go get a cup of coffee. No big deal. Just another genre that complements you trying to pay your rent.
But somewhere near misery, 3 a.m. and eight glasses of whatever-you-got, it is the only music that fucking exists. That dopey beat hides under the table while George, Hank Sr.–or any of the other dozens worth a damn–school your worthless ass in travails of wild misery. That simplicity, that abandonment of subtext connects with the most basic, almost reptillian, parts of being miserable. The words might as well be your shitty life. The music might as well be the five elements. Old country is your brain when you’re too drunk to sleep.
Father John Misty’s Fear Fun (Sub Pop) is not really a country album. It’s got some pedal steel here and there, and it talks like a Truck Driver sometimes, but I don’t think I can buy the tape at a Flying J. If my Dad, who is a Truck Driver, asked me how it sounded I’d say something about Harry Nilsson taking a limo back to L.A. after getting too fucked up on whatever was lying around Neil Young’s ranch. He wouldn’t have any idea of what that means either.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s a well-produced singer/songwriter record. In the daytime, it’s solid folk rock that touches on the “women, drugs, and having a good time even when everything is falling apart around you” thing that has been done by many, many other white dudes living out in L.A. I’ll find myself whistling the hook to “This is Sally Hatchet” while going out to buy asprin. I’ll marvel at the inventiveness of the arrangement to “Nancy From Now On.” I’ll turn it up near the third song and think “Hey alright, this is pretty catchy.”
When I’m drunk as hell, this record werewolfs its way into my favorite album of 2012. Father John Misty’s goofball jokes sound like Gallows humor from a dude who can’t tell the difference between success or failure, and seems to enjoy both in all the inappropriate places. The songs revel in the messy guilt that circles you in a day-to-day life of getting by. It flips that guilt into a joke that slips out between you recognizing and lamenting the past you’ve ruined. This, to me, makes a modern take on the old “country weeper.” Gone enough to spill your guts to The Rolling Stones poster at your mushroom dealer’s house, but smart enough to recognize how ridiculous that action is.
At 3 a.m. the music has a desperate bravado to it. It’s sound of the union of Mr. and Mrs. Right Now that happens every night in the dumpy patch of every city. From my understanding, the bulk of this record was put together using a crack team of L.A. session players. At night, it loses that sheen. The players’ muscle-memory seems to weaken, and they’re rubbing out blue snot on their sleeves from the Adderall they snorted to keep things moving. It’s still ornately pretty folk rock, but there’s a meanness to it. It’s the sonic equivalent of somebody giving you a black eye with a dandelion.
In all of these “dry day/drunk night” lines of dissimilarity I keep going on about, I don’t mean to say “Yeah y’all, get BLOTTO and check this shit out! If not put on ______.”
It’s a great album song for song. To me, it’s the only record this year that pulled that off (you’ll get ‘em next time, Ariel). I just feel like I had to get down to this record’s level to see it for the powerful piece of music that it is. Josh Tillman had to live in a van taking mushrooms to write a novel that would become Father John Misty’s debut record. I had to get drunk in a dark and filthy room at 3 a.m. to finally hear it.