Lulled by the sermon of the Father, as we’ve become disciples of his anti-folk here at SONGLYRICS, since his “Bored in the USA” declarations at the Newport Folk Festival in July, the man known by birth and a handful of solo records as J.Tillman played a solo jewel of a last day CMJ curtaining set, on acerbic point as usual, a cappelling a full Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd with off-the-cuff ruminations on one of the only acronyms he knows that may or may not be a corporate brand:
“Is this news to anyone?” he winked at the hissing crowd, “Does it disillusion you?” So went his brand of humor from the stage of a festival that truly for the most part, despite, yes, its corporate affiliations, held in the city that has its own definition of a quick minute, still holds on to the discovery and integrity of young musicians trying to make an honest break. The creepy staring model in a bunny mask that was Tillman’s band replacement then perhaps could be a metaphor for the darkside of the music business – deceivingly sexy, harrowingly hollow if commandeered by the wrong hands.
Or not. It was very much like the bunny mask from Donnie Darko - we still don’t know what the hell the undertones were there. Likewise with the break Tillman took to open a bottle of wine and pour its contents into a single glass until it runneth over. Political satire? Gallagher prop? Another CMJ corporate jab in jest? The world may never know. Like the bunny model, he did not narrate the event.
The giant iPhone cardboard cutout on the other hand, that he’s debuted on his current tour, that shit was glaringly overt and hilarious. Paired with a duet of new tunes with anecdotes like “getting high on a mattress while the global market crashes” (“Honeybear, I Love You;” [LISTEN] ) and ”I obliged later when you begged me to choke ya” (Untitled), and a between song request to take a picture of the scene followed by a picture of the picture of the scene to infinite theatrics, it was a hands-on reflection of why Tillman is so important right now, threaded with visceral poetry, as well as commentary on our grotesque attention spans these days. And hopefully a signal of a trend that will follow in consecutive years of CMJ Marathoning acts.
Tillman packed too much to write about in a single sitting, from sprawling Gillian Welch covers that made you miss his voice in the Fleet Foxes, to songs about “bible sex, and friendship and identity crises,” cuts from his somber singer-songwriter days, whistle jams, with the lion’s share of tunes pulled from his Father John Misty outfit. But again, like that Newport set, nothing hit finer than “Bored in the USA,” and its fist for the millennial: [LISTEN]
And elsewhere, we did find protégées of Tillman. Whether said acts were self-aware or not, it’s invigorating to see bands challenge single-song formats with messages and various ethos. Aussie Courtney Barnett was able to do so in the hallway of a bar called The Delancey, at the footsteps to the Williamsburg Bridge in Manhattan, so beautifully ramshackle garage pop swaggering her 2012 jam, “History Eraser,” that sounds like it’s going to tear your face off like Nirvana‘s “Drain You,” but instead unfolds like a Rolling Stones child raised by Nick Cave wolves, Barnett using the Stones rightly to write a new history of anti-cool: [LISTEN]
A group of legit Killers, meanwhile, tore up the basement of the Lit Lounge in the East Village, accessing all the shimmering angst the Vegas boys used to but with a Montreal state of mind. They call themselves Human Human, and wear matching jean jackets with the word ‘RUN’ on them. Their song titles were rudimentarily titled – “Youth,” “Control,” “Home” – and seemingly one-dimensional – “I kissed you without asking” – but washed in cakes of synth and three-part harmonies, made perfect sense for the meditations found in the act of running, even if you can’t run a mile without cramping. To the new class of CMJ 2013 – keep on keepin’ on.