Album review: Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy

Entertainment, capitalism, humanity, and war are just a few topics that Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty) touches on in his new album, Pure Comedy. The album was released on April 7, and Tillman performed a couple songs from the album on Saturday Night Live on March 4.

Tillman doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. He’s been known for his blunt, but often humorous commentary on humanity. Tillman, who also formerly played for the band Fleet Foxes for four years, released two other albums under his moniker, Father John Misty — Fear Fun in 2012 and I Love You, Honeybear in 2015.

If I could compare Pure Comedy to Tillman’s previous albums, I’d say that this album has a mood that’s cynical, yet realistic at the same time. It builds on many of the themes from I Love You, Honeybear’s song “Bored in the USA,” which discusses conventional American life, perhaps with a more pessimistic perspective.

In the opening title track, “Pure Comedy,” Tillman dives right into topics like religion, politics and Hollywood. The music video features imagery of the Trump inauguration, Obama’s departure, and yes, even the “Pepe the Frog” meme. The music video was strategically posted on YouTube and Father John Misty’s Facebook page on January 23, just days after Trump’s inauguration.

The lyrics could not be more spot-on with some of the feelings many must have felt at this time, when Tillman sings, “Oh comedy, their illusions, they have no choice but to believe / Their horizons that just ever recede / And how’s this for irony, their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs that they never have to leave.”

“Total Entertainment Forever” looks at the frightening reality that our society is heading towards. Tillman gives us a warning that technology will progress to the point where it completely encompasses our lives, and believes we are literally being entertained to death, with lyrics like, “When the historians find us, we’ll be in our homes / Plugged into our hubs, skin and bones / A frozen smile on every face / As the stories replay / This must have been a wonderful place.”

In “Leaving LA”, Tillman critiques Los Angeles and its culture, but the song later becomes an introspective analysis of himself and his music. In a Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, Tillman admitted how difficult it was for him to write this song, saying, “I worked on it for three years. One whole year was just the first line, which I would just sing over and over again and the song just would not grant me access…once I realized what it was, it came together. But the state of mind I was in I was writing this stuff was—I mean, I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking, I stopped doing drugs, and eating meat. I went real venatic almost”. The song is brutally honest, with lyrics like “A little less human with each release / Closing the gap between the mask and me / I swear I’ll never do this, but is it okay?”

In Pure Comedy, Father John Misty hits the nail on the head because he gets it. He’s noticed how numb we’ve become (or maybe we always have been) and he isn’t having any of it. Pure Comedy shows that all this seriousness weighs down on us, but he’s able to joke about it and bounce between sincere and deadpan. Tillman lets us know that in your darkest human moments, you can laugh because we are all part of the joke.

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