Father John Misty’s album “Pure Comedy” is thirteen tracks of nonstop irony, social critique and folk/blues guitar playing.
The singer-songwriter Josh Tillman released his third album under the persona Father John Misty to his anxiously awaiting fans on April 7. “Pure Comedy” follows in the religiously-skeptical and brutally honest veins of Tillman’s previous albums under his stage moniker, but this album takes a more serious and critical approach to society as a whole.
If his previous album “I Love You, Honeybear” was an essay on Tillman’s thoughts on love, “Pure Comedy” is a dissertation on his concerns with entertainment, politics and society.
Every song is packed with carefully crafted lyrics that make you think, especially the line “These mammals are hell-bent on fashioning new gods/So they can go on being godless animals,” from the title track. Tillman’s own troubled past with religion comes through in the imagery and language he uses. As a lover of words, I could spend pages dissecting even one of his songs.
There isn’t a singular punchy anthem or a catchy hook in the album, instead Tillman captures listeners with his passionately cynical yet completely self-aware approach to songwriting. He recognizes that he is just “another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously," as he sings in “Leaving LA.” The 13-minute stream of 10 chorus-less verses and swelling strings is the epitome of intellectual angst, and Tillman is definitely not seeking Top 40 radio play with this one. The song ends abruptly, signifying it’s one that could go on even longer if Tillman wanted to.
The biggest irony of the album is not lost to Tillman. He is critiquing entertainment through his album of entertaining music. As he heads out on tour, he’ll be standing in front of festival audiences and sold-out theaters telling people they should think twice about being entertained...as he is entertaining them.
However, in a world where we’re constantly plugged in, Tillman’s approach meets us where we’re at. Art has long been used as an avenue for social critique, and Tillman uses his art to spark reflective discussion.
What ties the whole album together is Tillman’s smooth folk-rock voice blended with his acoustic guitar and ballad-style piano accompaniment found in almost every song. As a “guy in 2017” he also reaches out to incorporate electronic effects.
My personal favorite of the album, “Birdie,” mixes simply chord driven piano with airy synths and electronic overlays reminiscent of echoing choirs, city scapes, airplanes and static. This ballad is Tillman’s more pessimistic version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as he looks forward to a better future for us all, though he’s not sure what that will look like.
If good art is that which makes us think and reflect, “Pure Comedy” is a solid musical piece. Though incredibly cynical and pessimistic at times, moments of hope do appear in his beautiful instrumental interludes and in references to hope found within community. “I hate to say it,” he sings, “but each other's all we got.”
If you’re looking for a chart topping album to bop along with, you can scroll past Father John Misty’s latest release “Pure Comedy.” However, if you’re willing to spend a little time digesting your music, this 75-minute album is sure to challenge your thoughts on entertainment culture.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Torch.