I Can't Make You Love Me (or, another internet thinkpiece on Drake and Father John Misty)
I don’t think of myself as a contrarian. I feel like that’s worth mentioning, given how much shit I talk on this blog. Rarely do I go into an album review wanting to write something scathing or negative. I mean, sure, there have been a few times where I’ve been like “oh I can’t wait to EVISVERATE this one,” but usually, I go into an album with an open mind. That’s when the disappointment comes.
Pushing 32, I can’t make myself like something. Occasionally, in the past, that’s worked. Where if I’ve spent enough time with something, eventually, I’d come to like it, or at least appreciate it. But usually, I’ll know almost right away if it’s going to work out or not. It’s almost always been this way. In high school, I couldn’t make myself like Modest Mouse. In college, I couldn’t make myself like The Strokes.
Popular opinion in the last week has been that the new albums from Father John Misty and Drake, respectively, are both amazing, garnering praise and thinkpieces across the internet.
It seems strange to sit down here to write yet another thinkpiece about I Love You, Honeybear and If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, but here we are. Comparing a bearded indie musician and a self aggrandizing rapper seems like comparing apples to a fruit that nobody has ever heard of. But here’s why I’m doing this—try as I might, I cannot make myself like either of these albums. There are aspects that I appreciate of both, sure, but as a whole, it’s just not happening for me.
And secondly, both are artists that are playing a role—characters, or in some cases, caricatures. Father John Misty is one Josh Tillman, AKA J. Tillman. Formerly a bearded singer of sparse folk songs from a long tradition of bearded singers of sparse folk songs hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Tillman cashed checks with his dayjob as the drummer for Fleet Foxes, before he realized how miserable he was and then quit the band. He also had a bad experience with hallucinogens, and upon coming back down, rechristened himself and his sound as Father John Misty, an odd mix of swagger, soul, pomp, 70s AM radio, and cutting humor.
Then there’s Drake—one Aubrey Graham, a former teen actor from “Degrassi The Next Generation.” He rose to fame (quickly) off the success of his debut EP in 2009, arriving in 2010 with a full length. He took a turn then with his last two subsequent releases that he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Drake is sensitive. He’s moody. He doesn’t want any new friends. He likes being rich. But man he’s still got problems though, and he’ll rap about them. He also loves being from Canada.
I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album of sorts, dedicated to Tillman’s wife. It’s also a very stark, dry look at what it means to be a middle class white man in his mid-30s. He’s a self-described self-loathing narcissist. He also has a gigantic, beautiful beard. If anything, I should be the president of the fucking Father John Misty fan club. But his affect—this character he plays of the self-aware crooner—has never worked for me, and it’s always been something that’s given me reason for pause.
Musically, Honeybear is incredibly rich and warm sounding. It sounds like it cost Sub Pop a goddamn fortune to make an album this textured. Tillman really pulls out all the stops with the arrangements, attempting to (and kind of succeeding, I guess) in harkening back to the 1970s, sun drenched, California sound that’s so popular right now with musicians.
But there’s something about his voice. It’s pleasant I guess. But he’s really switched it up a bit from the way he delivered things as J. Tillman. His voice here is supposed to be big and grand—maybe it’s supposed to be a weird, joke thing. I don’t know. But to me, that’s what keeping me away. It doesn’t fit.
Lyrically, there are times where Honeybear is incredibly cringing. “Oh I love the kind of woman who can walk over a man…I mean, like a god damn marching band,” he opens up a self-aware song called “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment.” I hear a lyric like that and I’m like NEXT SONG PLEASE.
Despite how awful something like that is, Tillman hits too close to home for me with a song called “Bored in the U.S.A.” Performed on “Letterman” last November with a player piano, Tillman took the mic at one point, sat crosslegged like a stand-up comedian, and deadpanned the words at one point. I’m guessing the audience had no fucking idea what they were watching.
“Now I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the ways I’ve grown more disappointing to you as my beauty warps and fades,” he sings in total earnest. Then later, and even harder to hear, “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, but I can kind of deal with being bored in the USA.”
Sure, it’s like #firstworldproblems the song or whatever, but if that’s not my life (and maybe you’re life too) then I don’t know man, I really don’t know.
I guess this is a fine time to segue into talking about Drake. Because I guess with Drake, and a lot of rap music, it’s not my life. It’s like no life I’ll ever know. Specifically with Drake. I mean sure he didn’t deal drugs or whatever. But man. Due sure loves to floss. He loves talking about money and how wealthy being a rapper has made him. I doubt rich people sit around listening to Drake, thinking “Ah yes, Drake understands my plight.”
You learn a lot of things about the man that is Drake on If You’re Reading This—specifically about Drake’s hatred of the Internet and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO.) On “Energy” he says “I got bitches askin’ me about the code for the wifi so they can talk about they timeline, and show me pictures of they friends, just to tell me they ain’t really friends.” Out of the entire album, this is one lyric that stayed with me, made me laugh out loud at how clever and true it was, and was one thing that I could actually identify with Drake on.
Later, on “You and The 6,” he addresses his mother questioning what she reads in the press about him: “She got Google alerts, them shits go straight to her phone.”
If You’re Reading This may also be about his disdain for his current label situation, as Pitchfork points out in their review of it, which also details the possible digs at Puff Daddy and Kendrick Lamar that may be buried in the lyrics.
Despite Drake’s lyrical content, which if you boil it down, is basically saying “Man it’s tough being Drake. Because Drake is so great and talented and people are always trying to knock me off this pedestal”—the real issue with If You’re Reading This, and with Nothing Was The Same, is that this is just so fucking boring. Beat wise, everything starts to sound the same after maybe the third song, and shit goes on for over an hour. And the bravado of his delivery starts to wear on your patience before the first song is even finished.
But hey. Again. This is just me.
This got an 8.3 on Pitchfork. I Love You, Honeybear got an 8.8. What the fuck do I know?
The other day, my wife went to see a shitty play. She recalled why she didn’t like it, but then felt bad, like she had missed the point or something, or was confused why she didn’t like it. I told her what I often tell myself after I give an album another “it stinks!” review—and that is: it’s okay not to like something, you just have to be able to back it up with legit reasons as to why you don’t.
Sometimes I don’t know if writing reviews of albums has made me like music less than I used to. I’m so critical. I rarely find things I really enjoy listening to in my leisure time. I rarely listen to music in the car now, opting to drive around in silence instead. I don’t buy as many records as I used to 1) because them shits is expensive and my wife is probably glad I am not pissing away my money, but also 2) because I never know what my companion rabbits are going to hate or not, so why bother anyway? Easier just to not buy that record then have to deal with not being able to play because they’ll flip out about how it sounds (this is a real thing that’s happened before many times.)
There’s a reason this blog is called Anhedonic Headphones. Well, there are many reasons why. I want to like Father John Misty. It seems like we could be friends, maybe, in another life because to an extent, I understand where he’s coming from. I just with that he’d drop the act and be easier on my ears. I want to like Drake, I guess, too. I get it with Drake. Even though he’s rich as hell, he’s still got problems. We’ve got problems. Maybe we’re all Father John Misty or Drake deep down. I don’t know. We’re all bored in the U.S.A. We’re all running through the 6 with our woes.