Father John Misty is the stage name of Josh Tillman, a Marylands born singer songwriter of folk and indie rock. He made a name for himself playing in a number of bands like Fleet Foxes and The Lashes before starting his solo venture with I Will Return. Pure Comedy marks his first album since 2015’s successful I Love You, Honeybear.
Pure Comedy sees Tillman continuing and expanding upon his character of Father John Misty, ruminating on life, death, love, technology, politics and the environment in his typically dry and sardonic style. Sonically the album also expands, incorporating more electronic manipulation of Misty’s voice and the production. Quite a few tracks on the album – such as Birdie and Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before the Revolution – feature moments of audio degradation that contrast with the otherwise natural sounding production and instrumentation on the album. When tracks like the title track and A Bigger Paper Bag (my favorite) reach their peak with horn and string sections flowing between Tillman’s piano or acoustic guitar and vocals, it sounds remarkably 70s, with tight production giving the album a warm and snug feel.
While the production is gorgeous and the lyrics are dry and often times appropriately absurd, the album itself with a run-time of over 70 minutes finds itself meandering with little flow or progression. Leaving LA is a 13 minute ballad serving as the centerpiece of the album, and while it fits as the sort of ‘thesis statement’ of the album’s intent, the tracks on either side tend to blur into one another, with little beyond different themes to differentiate them. Tillman’s vocals get the job done – and indeed, fit his lyrics – but they do little to maintain interest, often fading into the background as just another instrument.The lack of hooks or distinctive melodies, while certainly a penchant for the genre and indeed Tillman himself, leaves Pure Comedy a little bloated and indistinct. With Tillman’s eccentric persona as Misty – like including an 1800 word essay with the announcement of the album – the album’s nature could very well be commentary on life itself as meandering and forgetful.
With Pure Comedy I get the impression that, like Father John Misty himself, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it scenario. Those that get it rave about it – understandably – and those who don’t are left a little underwhelmed. As a member of the former camp, I guess the joke’s on me.
Top Photo courtesy of Bella Union and Sub Pop
Body photo courtesy of Guy Lowndes