Father John Misty – Pure Comedy Review 

Joshua Tillman has significantly elevated his standing amongst critics and the public over the course of the last five years. Fear Fun was an album that strongly hinted at his talent for combining black humour with a strong musical base. I Love You, Honeybear demonstrated is skill as a musical narrator in all forms as he used everything from easy acoustic folk and piano ballads to ring true his introspective thoughts and feelings. Pure Comedy is an album delivered in full spotlight of the media and much of the public. Now we have legendary names being placed alongside his. Harry Nilsson and Paul Simon to name just two. With his increased presence, it seems only fitting that looks to be an outward projection to the world around him; his flippancy, eccentricity and melodic skills all tools for doing so this time around. Will it maintain his upward projectory? 

With the title track he follows a similar piano ballad style, to ‘Bored in the USA’. Presumably no longer ‘Bored in the USA’, Tillman resorts to finding humour in the chaos of American politics. Taking aim at religion as he often does, he compares priests to the cult of Donald Trump when he sings, ‘Oh, their religions are the best /They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed /With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits /And they get terribly upset /When you question their sacred texts / Written by woman-hating epileptics’. He goes on saying that these people have ‘horizons that just forever recede/ And how’s this for irony, their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs /That they never ever have to leave’. It may not be as original as his previous work on a musical basis but with these insightful lyrics, Joshua Tillman shows he hasn’t lost his touch in the two years between his last LP and his next. The Ballad of the Dying Man’ is an example of his fixating writing style. That he writes each song in a distinctly American songbook style only heightens the irony on which his lyrics thrive. Amongst the flowing piano chords, stringed together with gentle acoustic strumming are his swipes at the ‘homophobes, hipsters and one percent’ and the idea that a dying man would check his news feed on his last breath. Bold and uncomfortable lyrics encased in this familiar and warm sound is what makes this song and his recent catalogue of music as a whole. With ‘Two Widely Different Perspectives’ he swipes at the common topic of war and division. He places his verses in two parts with each a comparison that brands both sides the same. With these tracks we can see how his vocals are even stronger than two years ago and is developing a style somewhere between Harry Nilsson and Paul Simon; a comparison in part for he is his own artist, but something he’s becoming worthy of. 

With ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ he continues to channel that Americana style with chiming piano chords tied up in a jangling acoustic riff with the accentuation of a few Saxophones. In this track he turns his narrative of modern life to our slow degradation as we take on more technology. The lyrics conclude with historians discovering our lifeless corpses with “frozen smiles” on their faces. Father John Misty doesn’t do subtle and that is what makes these songs so captivating. ‘Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’ is a piece of music delivered through a warm piano ballad as he coolly snipes “so we overthrew the system because there’s no place for human existence”. He muses that his “social life as a little less hectic” as he consoles his empty self amongst a pleasant afternoon setting. The song then take on a ‘Day In The Life’ twist as distorted and whirring string sections fire the song to an echo chamber of Joshua Tillman’s unsettling notes on the nature of the place he lives. The song then slips out of this sonic phase and back into the piano ballad setting. It is a sobering demystifying of our existence that concludes this track as he declares earth as “this godless rock that refuses to die”. As a lyrical and musical combination, it seems an outrageous concept, yet he hammer the unsettling message home in the most reassuring way possible. 

‘Birdie’ is an ode to a bird that’s beyond the events of the earth below with a slightly satirical, idealistic view of the future. An acoustic track that is aiding by a wondrous and ambitious piece of production given the limited foundations of the track, yet a view samples that go on to lead up soaring, morphing soundscapes show how it can be done. ‘Leaving L.A’ is an utterly unnerving piece of gentle music mixed with stinging lyrical content that tears into the culture generated by the city he occupies to the crushing disappointment he is said to be to his dying father. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else on this album, Joshua Tillman showcases his ability to catch us completely off guard with his songwriting. ‘Twenty Years From Now’ is a shimmering piano track that easily deconstructs the myth of our existence before flying off into a spacious and vast instrumental. Off the back of that, he effortlessly rolls on. He declares that “in twenty years time this human experiment will reach its violent end” before boldly swooning that “there’s nothing to fear”. On that note the album ends with steady waves of strings. 

I’ll be honest. I thought this album was going to be brilliant, but it landed so far ahead of where I expected it to fall. We all knew he was an accomplished songwriter, but with Pure Comedy Joshua Tillman has announced himself as one of the great songwriters; to sit with those greats he’s compared to as opposed to sounding a bit like them. Musically, it is not mind blowing, but it doesn’t need to be. He commands each track himself and when he does show some musical ambition, it is a beautiful and tragic experience. Anyone and everyone should take the time to listen to this. It’s a mirror of the world we live in and Father John Misty shows beautifully just how ugly the reflection is. Ironic to the last. 

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy = 10/10

Owen Riddle and Callum Christie 

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