‘God’s Favorite Customer’ Is Father John Misty’s Darkest And Most Heartbroken Album

Cultural Critic
05.30.18

Emma Tillman

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In late April, I saw Father John Misty and his exemplary backing band play a stunning hour-long set at the Homecoming Festival in Cincinnati. It was also a little strange, because the artist otherwise known as Josh Tillman hardly spoke between songs. There were no rants about Trump, or the cult of celebrity, or the soul-deadening effects of the internet, or anything else resembling the viral moments that have become fixtures of #FJMcontent on music news websites in recent years. He just played one beautiful, wry tune after another, including several tracks from his forthcoming record, God’s Favorite Customer.

I enjoyed the performance tremendously, though the critic in me immediately went into pundit mode. Clearly, Tillman was over-correcting in the aftermath of 2017’s Pure Comedy, his 76-minute broadside about the state of the world that garnered mostly positive reviews, and yet left a faintly negative impression in the wake of a sometimes playful, more often confrontational press cycle. “This guy is a little too much,” seemed to be the prevailing sentiment. But now that he wasn’t talking, either on stage or off — he’s mostly sworn off interviews to promote God’s Favorite Customer — I immediately psychoanalyzed the man on stage as a reactionary. Fine, I won’t say anything, I imagined Tillman thinking. See how you people enjoy your boring, humorless indie stars now.

People have played this parlor game with Tillman ever since he adopted the Father John Misty persona six years ago. Admittedly, I like thinking about Father John Misty more than just about anyone in music right now. He’s a great artist, and also a genuinely interesting entertainer, and there’s nobody in contemporary indie rock nearly as good at both of those things. But even people who can’t stand him tend to assign motives and machinations to even seemingly innocuous gestures, and Tillman knows this.

“People think I’m toying with them, playing 12-dimensional chess,” he told The New Yorker‘s Nick Paumgarten last year. He was reacting to a Pitchfork column by Greil Marcus in which the venerated music critic claimed that Tillman adopted his swaggering, shamanistic avatar in order “to appear as if touched by God” and “laugh at you” for not getting it.

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