Album Review: Josh Tillman (AKA Father John Misty) – The History of Caves

Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, quit Fleet Foxes in 2012 out of artistic necessity. Though his subtle drumming and vocal harmonies were vital to the band’s sound, Fleet Foxes was Robin Pecknold’s project, and Tillman had too many ideas of his own.

For years, he diligently churned out solo albums in the shadow of the Foxes’ acclaim before finally adopting the moniker Father John Misty and venturing forth exclusively alone, playing his own tunes. His 2012 debut as the Father, Fear Fun, is a psyched-out folk epic; he followed it with a massive touring cycle and some fantastic music videos, finally garnering a fanbase of his very own.

Most artists take a well-deserved break after so much work, but not Tillman. Instead, he began his most ambitious project yet: composing and recording a score for the short film The History of Caveswhich was written and directed by his wife, Emma. It’s a no-budget horror flick (guised as an indie drama) that tells the story of a promiscuous father and his suspicious children, who invoke witchcraft to get rid of the young women who keep sleeping with their dad.

A decisive lack of dialogue makes the music the focal point, as it plays over wordless scenes. Tillman reduces his instrumentation down to soft acoustics and slow, sparse arrangements. He employs his accomplished finger-picking technique (“Finish Those Cigarettes and Go to Bed”, “Of Course I Live With Them”), minor key piano etudes (“Alternate Title Score 777”), and lo-fi ambience (“Dial Tone”) to match the movie’s melancholic mood and brooding pace. It recalls Ry Cooder’s beautiful acoustic score to Paris, Texas, only shorter. Much shorter.

The vinyl and digital release of this soundtrack is only 15 minutes long (including multiple renditions of the title theme). As a standalone experience, it’s a pleasant listen, but far too short to make any lasting impact. Only music present in the actual film was used, and it’s hard to believe that Tillman would compose exactly 15 minutes of music when writing the soundtrack. Perhaps including some pieces that were cut from the film (a la Vangelis’ Blade Runner original soundtrack) could’ve filled out a longer proper release.

As it stands, this is a nice, fleeting instrumental stopgap for Tillman, until the next Father John Misty LP. It’s also another positive development for Tillman as a solo artist — proof that’s he’s willing and able to cross into new mediums with his songwriting talent.

Essential Tracks: “Of Course I Live With Them”, “Dial Tone”


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