Going At It Alone: Father John Misty & Jack White

Conventional wisdom suggests that two heads are better than one.  By that logic, even more heads in the mix will really spruce things up?  In affairs of the real world, perhaps this is true.  In the realm of art and music, a singular vision is often more profound and powerful.  I can hear what you are thinking, “But, many bands are really just ‘background’ or ‘window dressing’ for the/a main singer/songwriter.”  I have no doubt that is true.  And, in reality no woman or man is in the words of Simon and Garfunkel “a rock” or “an island.”  The recording of an album or song is generally the work of multiple people, even for those crazy gifted/talented musicians like James Murphy, Trent Reznor, Zack Condon, etc.

But, the point I was hoping to make (before my mental devil’s advocate chimed in) is that one often finds really moving solo work from musicians who broke through in larger bands.  Take for example, Ryan Adams making Heartbreaker after disbanding Whiskeytown, Jenny Lewis’ Rabbit Fur Coat in between her stints with Rilo Kiley, or Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) and his under appreciated masterpiece Person Pitch on his break from Animal Collective.

Recently, I have become obsessed with two solo artists who are no strangers to the (Indie) lime-light.  Both musicians were at one stage of their career members of bands who for one reason or another I was always sort “meh” on even though much beloved by many.

Father John Misty “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”

Father John Misty is the stage name of Joshua Tillman and the former drummer of the now disbanded Fleet Foxes.  In a strange way, I’m oddly happy that the Fleet Foxes are no longer making music together because I never ever understood their appeal.  Even though I adore melodious folk rock, I could never get past three or four songs without wanting to switch records or falling asleep AND YET so many people absolutely adore this band.  Does this ever happen to you?  It is a strange feeling to feel so outside a commonly shared “love” or experience.

What makes FJM different?  For starters, his vocals are far less choir-boy-esque and ethereal.  He has the gritty, grainy, salt-of-the-earth, raspy vocals one comes to expect from their folk troubadours, like Ray Lamontagne .  Currently I’m working my way through Fear Fun, FJM’s most recent album and really enjoying it.  This one track, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, has totally captured my attention with its arresting simplicity and haunting sparseness — feels like it should have been part of the Martha Marcy May Marlene soundtrack.  Also, the track reminds me a great deal of early lo-fi Elliot Smith (think either/or or Roman Candle) mixed with the pounding guitars of Folk Implosion.  Joshua’s voice is spellbinding and the narrative is chock full of quirky lines like “we should let this dead guy sleep.”

Listen and watch a promo video with a very curiously acting Aubrey Plaza (of Parks and Rec fame) below — advanced warning the content isn’t NSFW but it’s a little “in your face.”

Jack White‘s “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”

Jack White is… well let’s be honest, Mr. White needs little to no introduction at this stage.  But for those who’ve been cryogenically frozen (or fell asleep) for the past decade you might recognize him from the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and/or the Dead Weather.  Let’s be clear, I like so many was a fan of the White Stripes.  However, after about Elephant, something about their music changed.  In part I think it became to garage-y blues and in part oddly over-the-top guitar rock and anthemic.  Plus, the “cult” of the White Stripes (no fault of the band persay) really alienated me and this followed Jack into his next two projects, which so many music buffs love.  However, I never could get into it.  Both The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather left me cold.  I felt like an imposter, a phony.  Here are all these people raving about how great Jack and the Dead Weather are and I would just nod in silence, unwilling to admit my blase feeling towards the work.  (I’ve learned it’s better sometimes to “shut up” then “put up” because people can get oddly offended when you don’t “love” what they “love”.  I learned this years ago with Zeppelin, another band beloved by many that I think is fine but not mindblowing.  People will say things like, “what’s wrong with you man?”  Nothing.  I just don’t like Zeppelin.)

But, I’ve been listening to Blunderbuss a lot lately and enjoying it, especially “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”.  What makes this record more appealing to me is its return to what totally enamored me about the White Stripes, a love and celebration of early, no frills rock n roll, much like early punk was merely an ode to 60s rock but dirtier and with more distortion.  “Hip…” also has a lot of Roots Rock mixed with bluegrass and a gorgeous soulful undercurrent; note the gorgeous female voice doing the backing vocals.  In fact, the song evokes the pop experimentalism of White Album Beatles with Wilco’s take on Alt-Country.  More than anything it reminds me of the White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends” and that strain of awkwardly brilliantly youthful odes of love.

Check Jack singing it live below.  Also, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to Blunderbuss, listen here, I think you’ll enjoy it.

more on the morrow,

a.a.

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