Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Album Review: Father John Misty- Pure Comedy

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy
***and1/2 out of *****
Josh Tillman took a bit of time to fully develop into Father John Misty his character/not-a-character who sings writes and performs with a mix of gut wrenching honesty and sly humor. His wildly introspective, yet cosmic I Love You, Honeybear successfully dove deep into his personal issues/relationship with humor and pain, now for his follow-up Pure Comedy, he focuses his vision externally, to mankind as a whole.

A modern day combo of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman, Tillman uses piano driven grandiose ballads with gorgeously lush sounds to deliver his takes on modern society. The title track opener is his mission statement, he is critiquing today's world by going back to the dawn of human hunter/gathers to religious zealots to the end of the world. In the end he sums up "I hate to say it, but each other's all we got". This track sums up everything to follow and he will pick up it's themes as he progresses through the next twelve tracks, but the die has been cast.

Tillman has stated in interviews he doesn't like the distinction between himself and Father John Misty that the truth is somewhere in between. Honesty and performance swirling together working wonderfully and lyrically this album delivers in heaps, every possible topic seems to get an airing.

Never one to shy to away from long songs two tracks go on for a while. The almost ten minute "So I'm Growing Old On Magic Mountain" is a fantastical modern updating of Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain". "Leave LA" is a mid album twelve minute journey into the idea of music, the idea of escapism and prophet entertainment cycle in general. It is a long slog of a song that keeps the listener engaged by wondering just where Tillman goes next, it is also the most personal sounding track with direct connections to his career thus far. A shorter direct cut down to celebrity culture is "A Bigger Paper Bag" that strolls through drug addiction and the luridness of it all.

Musically things are slow, even to the point of dull. Production sounds amazing, but if it wasn't for the fantastic lyric sheet it would probably be hard for non-fans to make it all the way through Pure Comedy. This is a long album and not much variety pops up to augment the slow snares, pianos and stings. When changes do occur, things can become overwhelming such as on "Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution" where electronic bubbling drown out the song, "The Memo" also has odd digital sayings that are conflicting with the sound.

The sparse musicality also puts the focus directly on Tillman's voice and perhaps it is intentional (always hard to tell with Misty) but the vocals have a detached feel to them that keeps a lot of his messages aloof. Where as I Love You, Honeybear was excruciatingly personal (and was sung that way) here Tillman sounds like a detached observer of human kind as opposed to an active participant in the human race.

"Total Entertainment Forever" is the most fun musically as we get an uptempo stroll that has us constantly content no matter money or status while "Birdie" is a direct comparison between man's struggle verse animal nature. Then there is "When The God of Love Returns There'll Be Hell To Pay" which skips everything and speaks to God directly; few artists these days could pull off a stark track like this but Tillman does somehow. He doesn't do so positively though and his closing outlook on society is just as bleak as he wraps up the album with "In Twenty Years or So" which is about how much time he believes humanity has left.

In the end I Love You, Honeybear is a more affecting overall work as it examines the singer internally, and varies up the musical backing leaps and bounds more, however Pure Comedy is still a success. This isn't music to toss on and clean your apartment to, Tillman is diving into deep stuff even if he stands at arm (and vocal) length from it all.
A good album that can be tough to digest at times. Support the artist, buy the album (you can stream it on bandcamp as well) and peep some video:


  1. "Where as I Love You, Honeybear was excruciatingly personal (and was sung that way) here Tillman sounds like a detached observer of human kind as opposed to an active participant in the human race.".......On point