Album Review: “Pure Comedy” by Father John Misty
The philosophy of Father John Misty and his distaste with humanity
It’s been two years since we’ve heard new music from Father John Misty, the persona created by Josh Tillman in an attempt to further his creative expression. The singer released a new album, “Pure Comedy,” on April 7 and this album came in with a bang.
Misty conveys his stance on society, religion, himself and everything in between with “Pure Comedy.” Sarcasm mixes with humor and intensity to create a beautiful soliloquy destined to make an impact on the music community.
Josh Tillman is no stranger to the music scene. He played drums for the Fleet Foxes until 2011, when he created the character of Father John Misty. Since then, his music has moved from being entertaining and catchy to solely an artistic statement.
Misty jumps straight into his resentment of humanity in his introductory song, “Pure Comedy.” Right off the bat, he proclaims how ridiculous it is to think that we are all the center of the universe, strongly stating “Comedy, now that’s what I call pure comedy/Just waiting until the part where they start to believe/They’re at the center of everything/And some all-powerful being endowed this horror/show with meaning.”
While this may seem like a terrifying image to most people, Misty can only laugh. Not only is this perception of humanity ridiculous to him, but it goes so far as to even be comedic. The song is slow and relaxing, and the intensity of the lyrics combined with the peaceful lullaby of the music creates a tension in this song. The introductory song to this album sets the tone for the rest of the album, building an incredible statement of art.
“Pure Comedy” takes a step back from his original tone, channeling a sound more similar to that of the singer-songwriters of the ‘70s, such as Randy Newman. He takes even more of a jab at humanity, especially the residents of Los Angeles, in his longest song on the album, “Leaving LA.”
One of the huge topics that Misty continues to cover in his album is religion. Tillman was raised in an extremely evangelical household. He said in an interview with Beats 1 that at a young age he was speaking in tongues, a sort of language that is not coherent but is believed to be derived from a divine being, and at some points even considered dedicating his life to religion.
At one point in the album, Misty seems to be speaking to God when he says “Try something less ambitious the next time you get bored.” He wrestles with this theme of being resentful toward God and religion throughout the album with no real sign of ever being settled.
“Pure Comedy” was not created for easy listening. It is not something you want to throw on as background music. This album is about the message; it is about the poetry. This album is hard to listen to easily because it really lacks the light of humanity. It is totally brilliant in the way that Misty makes such groundbreaking proclamations about society and humanity and everything in between, but it lacks the hope that is so essential in being a human.
The apparent lack of humanity began with the first breath of the album, but it was solidified in the song “Ballad of the Dying Man.” This song is a narration of a man on his deathbed, contemplating just how the world will go on without his existence. It fits nicely into the recent conversation surrounding mansplaining, a term used to describe how men can speak condescendingly to women, but Misty probably intends it to be a jab at our entire society.
In his short film that accompanies the album, Misty features a glimpse into his own manic mind. It is made up of apocalyptic clips of Los Angeles in flames, clips of him screaming into a microphone and sound bites of the thought process behind many of the songs. This film takes an already groundbreaking album and puts a film element with it, giving the album a new dimension.
To a lot of the critics out there, this music sounds something like Misty getting high and ranting about how screwed humanity is. This is exact opposite of what he does; instead putting his entire mind to work on creating what has so far proven to be his most contemplated and difficult album to record.
In the short film, Misty exclaims, “I set out for music and busted my knees on f---ng entertainment.” This record is not for the money, it is not meant to top charts. It is meant to make a huge statement, and Misty absolutely achieves this.
Criticisms have been floating around “Pure Comedy.” Some reviews have complained that Misty uses this album to lament about his philosophy of the world, leaving listeners to be strung along on a 13 song record.
I disagree with the criticisms of the album that say he uses this platform to solely complain, but I do see the issue with the blunt darkness of the album.
The criticisms of this article seem somewhat biased in how they portray Misty as a complaining tortured artist, but there is an apparent darkness that comes along with his music. In the end, it is the way in which Misty put his entire self into the album in order to a record unlike any other that makes this collection of music stand out.