Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Our April album of the month, Josh Tillman's latest as Father John Misty takes a deep, dark and farcical look at 21st-century culture

Album Review by Lewis Wade | 03 Apr 2017
  • Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Album title: Pure Comedy
Artist: Father John Misty
Label: Bella Union / Sub Pop
Release date: 7 Apr

Following the breakthrough success of 2015's I Love You, Honeybear, Joshua Tillman has found himself as yet another reluctant rock star, thrust into the limelight and expected to capture the cultural zeitgeist in 80 minutes or less. But in the guise of Father John Misty, he embraces the role, plays up to it, uses it to bend and manipulate the parameters of modern rock music and has managed to create something bitingly acerbic and cynical, yet achingly sincere. Again. 

Pure Comedy was mostly written before the rise of Trump, but its subject matter is painstakingly prescient. Its indictments and warnings ring true with the state of contemporary geopolitics, as well as the personal trials and tribulations of an increasingly selfish society. The wider scope suits FJM's style, and references to man as a demented ape on a rock hurtling through space are sprinkled throughout the album.

'Oh great, that's just what we need / Another white guy in 2017 / Who takes himself so goddamn seriously' – Leaving L.A. is the album's centrepiece, which as FJM points out mid-song, is a 'ten-verse, chorusless diatribe' with enough quotable lines to keep any psychiatrist busy for a while. It encapsulates the style and lyrical content that the rest of the album reinforces; lamentations on a vapid society, the dangers of normalising radicalism and wry, personal asides.

The Memo is another standout track on an album full of them, showcasing Tillman at his most vitriolic, railing against selfie culture and our constant need for social gratification. The final minute of the song includes an automated voice going through some of the more groanworthy modern phrases/trends/hashtags ('fitbit', 'chill winter playlist', 'music is my life'), highlighting the homogeneity that has been created in spite of our best attempts to be unique. The lengthy running time of the album is used to not only expostulate on these ideas, but to analyse them and put them into context, with barely a wasted moment.

Pure Comedy is the perfect name for an album like this; one that trades in seemingly serious evocations, but ultimately reveals itself to be a farce. After 74 minutes of self-congratulatory back-slapping, proselytising, hand-wringing and relativising, Tillman reinforces his belief in man's ineffectuality and weakness amid cosmic indifference. Still, Father John Misty ends on a note of hopefulness, an acceptance of circumstances outside of our control, and a reminder that 'There's nothing to fear / There's nothing to fear...'

Listen to: Leaving L.A., The Memo 

Buy Father John Misty - Pure Comedy on Double LP/CD from Norman Records