After a three or four-week hiatus from music reviews, I’d like to resume tossing my two cents into the conversation on contemporary music. There has been a lot of great releases over the last month including new releases from Passion Pit, The Spirit of the Beehive, Raekwon but one has stuck out the most. Joshua Tillman’s third release under the moniker Father John Misty titled Pure Comedy dropped a little over a week ago and ushers in a new side of Tillman.
Following Tillman’s second release, I Love You, Honeybear, which cemented the former Fleet Foxes drummer as one of our generations better musicians, Pure Comedy sonically falls in nicely with the rest of Father John Misty’s releases. There’s a seamless flow between songs and no piece on the thirteen track album lacks attention in production giving it a full sound from start to finish. Where Tillman differs on this album from his previous two releases is within the lyrical content. On Pure Comedy, he’s dropped the gloves and has gone straight for the throat of contemporary society.
The album opens with the title track featuring heavy piano instrumentation. From the get-go, Tillman is talking about the dystopian society we once imagined but now live in. “It’s like something a mad man would conceive” he sings over a lengthy chord pattern talking about current political structures and spoiled masses. I couldn’t help but think of Randy Newman’s song style during this particular track; both writers use great chord progressions that incorporate beautiful minors and sevenths and are both very wordy in their lyrics.
There’s not much to say about the next two tracks, Total Entertainment Forever and Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution that hasn’t been said already. Total Entertainment Forever is clearly mocking celebrity mania in America and his own battle with the same success. Not an original theme but definitely written in an original way, I’m also a fan of anyone that calls out Taylor Swift. The latterly mentioned song, Things It Would Have Been…, has the same sentiment as the title track but from a personal point of view. There’s also a great part in the middle that features a rambunctious horn section.
Around the fourth track on the album, Ballad of the Dying Man, the listener gets a glimpse at the Father John Misty from his previous two albums. Over a stripped down arrangement, Tillman continues his observations on society through the eyes of a man living with regrets. Whether Tillman is the man or we are the man, it’s unclear but it keeps Tillman connected to his audience instead of putting himself on an ego-pedestal like on some of his previous work.
One of my favorite tracks on the album had to be the sixth one, Leaving LA. The song talks about attempting to leave a town that Tillman no longer feels connected to. It’s funny, I don’t think anyone has written a positive song about Los Angeles in over a decade and yet people still move there. Anyway, what’s great about this song and a lot of Tillman’s work is his use of literal lyrics on some songs. There isn’t any debate on what Leaving LA is about. This song also the longest and features the simplest arrangement with only a string section and an acoustic guitar; a nice break from the heavily layered tracks before and after it.
The other favorite track, Smoochie, is probably the only song which is about Tillman only. In it, he talks about married life and how that person is, or should be your better half. The track also features a pedal steel which I’m always a sucker for. I think alt-country is going to make a comeback soon with tracks like this and others that have come out this last year.
Pure Comedy closes on the same note it began with on In Twenty Years or So. The Lyrics take on an existential view that asks the same question every college freshman asks, “does any of this mean anything?” in reference to life and the human experience, of course. It’s an important question to ask yourself from time to time. In a world where philosophers clearly aren’t as important as they once were, Tillman takes on the role in a very Dostoevsky-esque tone by relying on the idea that life is meaningless but that shouldn’t be feared.
There’s a lot to take in on Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy. I personally had to take a break halfway through on my first go-round of it so I wouldn’t blame any other listeners if they did the same. Like his previous releases, whether it’s with Fleet Foxes or Father John Misty, Tillman’s work shouldn’t be ignored at any point, it expects your full attention and rightfully deserves it. It’s both inspiring and futuristic in sound and subject and makes for a good Sunday listen for the casual listener as well as the music nerd such as yours truly.
– By Mike Metcalf