Josh Tillman's Fear Fun is an album so steeped in its own self-mythology of nakedly embracing a self-mythology that its appeal will vary depending on the listener. If, for instance, you favor the bummer Los Angeles canon of Neil Young's caustic On the Beach or John Phillips' cosmic John Phillips (John, the Wolf King of L.A.), then Tillman's psychotropic and dour tunes may strike you as etiolated. If, however, Harry Nilsson or Gram Parsons represent musical genres more than complete artists, Tillman's album may sound evocative.
Tillman's voice is certainly luxurious enough to beguile. His coos on the plinking, lush opener "Funtimes in Babylon" or his gristle on the prickly shake of "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" captivate even after his ham-fisted lyrical nods to Los Angeles grow tiresome.
The album's highlights, however, are neither hushed folk nor pastiche pop. The haunted shuffle of "Nancy From Now On" provides the album's most-enthralling moment. Meanwhile, the menacing, rising electronic dissonance of "This Is Sally Hatchet" presents both the expert mixing of Phil Ek and Tillman's knack for composition.
Still, Fear Fun's sincerely cracked or deftly composed moments can be overwhelmed by a studied sycophantic patina that is distracting. Whether it's the folky ramble of "I'm Writing a Novel," the countrified of "Tee Pees 1-12," or the disco waltz of "Well, You Can Do It Without Me," Tillman seems so concerned with crafting affect that his passions and talent become stifled
Brilliantly (perhaps), given the album's mythological obsessions, Fear Fun plays like a true L.A. story: an artist polluted and diluted by ghosts.