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Josh Tillman

Father John Misty Writes Civilization's Obituary with 'Pure Comedy'

Music ReviewEzra CarpenterComment

There will be no casual audience for Father John Misty’s latest studio album Pure Comedy. Any time appropriate for listening to the album will not be spontaneous, brief, or passive. The headiness associated with any Father John Misty release is multiplied here by an unverifiable amount of times over and any recommendation of Pure Comedy for listening should be accompanied by an obligatory warning: this album is not a comforting experience. It would be nice to have the romantic jest and the lush sounds of I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop, 2015) rehashed as a therapeutic remedy to 2016. But that is not what we need and that is not what Father John Misty is interested in. As we toil with the consequences of an election year gone awry and ready ourselves for the consequences of upcoming developments, how can we approach art, life, or anything with leisure?

On Pure Comedy, Father John Misty (née Josh Tillman) tackles everything between political antichrists, the digital human experience, heavy-handed religiosity, and warring ideologies. The album is simultaneously a self-interrogation and an interrogation of the broader public’s role in enabling the current state of the union. But the questions that Tillman dares to ask are amorphously oblique and daunting. “Has commentary been more lucid than anybody else?” the protagonist asks on single “Ballad of the Dying Man.” Tillman’s choice of subject matter is certainly ambitious, but it is appropriate and well-deserved for him to take on. He dares to confront the most difficult questions looming over the nation, forgoing an altruistic or omnipotent approach for one that is genuinely vulnerable, concerned, and ultimately limited by his humanity.

Tillman’s signature backhanded humor is almost exclusively sarcastic on Pure Comedy, in contrast to I Love You, Honeybear’s facetious moments. Pure Comedy focuses a critical lens on modern society’s cultural practice, socio-political choices, and value set. “Bedding Taylor Swift / Every night inside the Oculus Rift / After mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” goes the opening lines to “Total Entertainment Forever.” Tillman’s criticisms are unsparing and pessimistic, a fitting match to the balladic tone of the album’s instrumentals. Melancholic pianos form the foundations of nearly every song on Pure Comedy, achieving a quality comparable to any Carole King-James Taylor collaboration on “Ballad of the Dying Man” and a Billie Joel theatricality on “Total Entertainment Forever.”

The album becomes a manifesto at its longest and most epic moments. “Leaving LA” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” clock in at 14 and 10 minutes respectively. The songs take listeners on a real-time tour of Tillman’s disgruntled headspace as he commutes from his home to the highway and convey the unsatisfactory and fleeting experiences of life in Los Angeles. In these songs, listeners will find themselves introspectively protracted. They are the negative spaces to an album densely packed with lyrics that offer more questions than answers concerning humanity's current condition, but not for a lack of trying to ascertain resolution. 

Through Pure Comedy's satire, Tillman does his best to offer solutions to the world’s problems, but he does not pretend to know the answers to all of them. He has no qualms about identifying societal shortcomings and challenging listeners to question whether or not they have been complicit with the regression of society’s development. He laments the ways in which our aspirations have incurred woeful externalities, telling Zane Lowe “When the internet came out it was like, this is the truest form of democracy that human beings have ever invented, this is gonna be the utopia. And you fast forward and it’s pornography.” Pure Comedy is a sobering experience and a memorandum outlining the faults in our current condition as a society and species. For some, this album will reek of an artist taking himself too seriously, but this is a gravitas that deserves applause. When was the last time you put yourself on the line by voicing your complaints? Did you try to solve them afterwards too?

Father John Misty Evokes James Taylor on Second 'Pure Comedy' Single "Ballad of the Dying Man"

New MusicEzra CarpenterComment

Having once cut a festival set short to share his pessimistic assessment of the world with his audience, Father John Misty now continues his line of questioning more musically, asking, "And had he successively beaten back the rising tide / Of idiots, dilettantes, and fools?"

"The Ballad of the Dying Man" follows "Pure Comedy" as the second single from forthcoming album Pure Comedy (due out April 7 via Sub Pop) and narrates the death of a critical man and how his commentary and analysis of the world and its politics fade into obscurity. The song's subtle instrumental pairs piano melodies and acoustic guitar rhythm as well as any Carole King-James Taylor collaboration while Josh Tillman's lyricism provokes a reassessment of cultural values and political practice. Listen below.

Father John Misty Announces 'Pure Comedy' LP, Releases Music Video and Short Film

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

What do Donald Trump, Pepe the Frog, and the cruel, cruel miracle of birth all have in common? A six-plus minute music video from Father John Misty, of course.

Waxing philosophical on the existential absurdity of the human condition as only Joshua Tillman can, "Pure Comedy" combines idiosyncratic observationalism with soulful detachment in a way that is simultaneously earnest and composed.

Tillman takes the obligatory stabs at politics (Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them? / What makes these clowns they idolize so remarkable?) and religion (They worship themselves yet they're totally obsessed / With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits), but isn't afraid to start at the very beginning (The comedy of man starts like this / Our brains are way too big for our mothers' hips).

So appropriately his forthcoming record begins with this meandering title track. Pure Comedy is due out April 7 via Sub Pop, and so far it sounds every bit of the quasi-preachy-satirical masterpiece you would expect. Tillman explains,

Pure Comedy is the story of a species born with a half-formed brain. The species’ only hope for survival, finding itself on a cruel, unpredictable rock surrounded by other species who seem far more adept at this whole thing (and to whom they are delicious), is the reliance on other, slightly older, half-formed brains. This reliance takes on a few different names as their story unfolds, like ‘love,’ ‘culture,’ ‘family,’ etc. Over time, and as their brains prove to be remarkably good at inventing meaning where there is none, the species becomes the purveyor of increasingly bizarre and sophisticated ironies. These ironies are designed to help cope with the species’ loathsome vulnerability and to try and reconcile how disproportionate their imagination is to the monotony of their existence.

Something like that.

The music video with its aforementioned eclectic cast features cartoons from Matthew Daniel Siskin and is accompanied by a 25 minute companion film directed by Tillman and Grant James. See both, along with the album art (also by Siskin) and tracklist, below.

father john misty pure comedy.gif

Pure Comedy

  1. Pure Comedy
  2. Total Entertainment Forever
  3. Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
  4. Ballad of the Dying Man
  5. Birdie
  6. Leaving LA
  7. A Bigger Paper Bag
  8. When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay
  9. Smoochie
  10. Two Wildly Different Perspectives
  11. The Memo
  12. So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain
  13. In Twenty Years of So

See more by Father John Misty here.