Sounds exactly like you’d expect the solo album by the drummer of a band with no notable drumming in their songs to sound like, and because the band in question is renown (read: only good) for its vocal harmonies and this is a solo record, you don’t even get that. Not a good album, in other words. The slower numbers, “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” (the obligatory country song) and “I Went to the Store One Day” are wastes of time; “The Ideal Husband” (the obligatory rock song) doesn’t catch fire (despite Tillman adding shards of piano and guitar); “Holy Shit” is “A Day in the Life” if “A Day in the Life” was appropriated by hipsters. Yeah, hipsters, I said it, and before you think that I’m using a lazy criticism, here’s a game for you if you don’t know what Josh Tillman looks like: picture what you think he looks like and Google him. And everyone seems to know that this is the same chord progressions they’ve been hearing for half a century now, so they focus on the lyrics.
Problem: the lyrics are just as often pretentious and pseudo-intellectual and self-pleased as they are good: “Mascara, blood, ash, and cum / On the Rorschach sheets where we make love” is grotesque and an all-around unfortunate way to start an album. “She says like literally music is the air she breathes / And the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well it’s literally not that” makes me want to throw out my turtleneck and blundstones. “We sang Silent Night in three parts which was fun / Until she said that she sounds just like Sarah Vaughan / I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on” suggests a complete lack of self awareness and suggests that he would’ve choked her regardless if she begged him to or not in the song’s random closing line that feels tacked on; consider the pronoun switch. The final verse of “The Ideal Husband” is awful and makes you realize the whole thing was a set-up for a punchline that you got from the title alone. And how refreshingly atheistic he is when he ironically sings “Save me white Jesus” and later, “Save me president Jesus”!
The controlled rise and falls of “I Love You, Honeybear” is the best thing about this album, especially when they’re delivered with the album’s best melody, “Everything is doomed / Nothing is spared / But I love you, honeybear”; “I brought my mother’s depression / You’ve got your father’s scorn / And a wayward aunt’s schizophrenia.” Elsewhere, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” has some good lines to balance out the awful ones already mentioned (“I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man / Like a goddamn marching band”; “And now every insufferable convo / Features her patiently explaining the cosmos / Of which she is in the middle”). And though I think “Bored in the USA” is more or less a failure because the laugh track doesn’t work the way Tillman wanted it to – it ends up sounding like he’s clapping for himself instead of laughing at himself and undermines how poignant the bridge’s lyrics, “They gave me useless education / And a sub-prime loan on a craftsman home / Keep my prescriptions filled / And now I can’t get off but I can kind of deal,” are – I acknowledge it was a bold idea that the album could’ve used more of.