Album Review: Josh Tillman – The History of Caves

Josh Tillman (a.k.a. Father John Misty) and his wife, Emma, master the screen

josh tillman

You know Josh Tillman, even if you know him better as Father John Misty. You may even know his wife, Emma, photographer and director/writer of the short film The History of Caves. But what you won’t know until watching the film is how seamlessly the couple work together.

As part of Record Store Day Black Friday, the film’s original score was subject to a highly limited release, with only 2,000 copies pressed and available worldwide. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Josh, who’s known for his anti-consumerism stance, explains the decision to cater to the chaotic shopping day: “Consumerism is different than consuming,” he said. “It’s a state of mind where you’re trying to achieve everything, or experience everything, in life through the act of buying things. You have to choose for yourself what things are worth buying, and in large part the public has decided that music is not worth buying. There’s something interesting in drawing people’s attention back to it as a commodity, and the only way to give it physical value is to make it limited edition.”

A lesson in sound design, Josh’s score weaves the tale his wife tells into the narrative of his music, fully inhabiting the bleakness, anxiety, curiosity, and sense of loss and struggle that The History of Caves depicts. In her film, Emma introduces the Snow family: father Hank, who fixes watches; daughters Velvet and Azalea; and son Cassius. There are the young women whom Hank charms and beds under the lingering sense of loss. Then there’s the ghost — spoken of only in jest, she’s never actually acknowledged. But her hands caress, soothe, and seduce Hank, while they calm and empower Velvet, indicating that they may be the hands of the mother, suggestively absent from the story. The children plot — by way of candles, passage reading, and chicken sacrifice — to keep their father to themselves. With that, Emma Tillman ventures to the underworld and back, Hank transitioning between the cellar and the upper level of his home, between escapism and verisimilitude, with time objectified in his hands.

On its own, the score is a beautifully eerie tale, stitched together by progressive chords and slow-creeping musical anxiety. It’s expressly articulate, capturing the graver side of reality, the struggles inherent to monotony, and the at-times shallow existence after tragedy. It is, in a sense, a celebration of the darkness that guides our most seemingly banal decisions.

Though the score can be heard and enjoyed independently, it does not exhibit independent sentiment. Josh Tillman’s work is a true original soundtrack, building on the film rather than competing with it. Together, The History of Caves and its score are sewn with discomfort to amplify the everyday — the fights with ourselves and with those close to us, the sacrifice and anger and blood-given love that ultimately connect us. The fear of separation exhibited cinematically and musically only intensifies as the Tillmans prove themselves a cohesive, powerfully talented team.

This article originally appeared on Raw Denim. December 3, 2013.