Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
T owards the end of Pure Comedy's 13-minute centrepiece track, Josh Tillman offers a glum assessment of the album's commercial chances. His career's current status, he claims, is under threat. "I'm beginning to begin to see the end of how it all goes down between them and me / Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe plays as they all jump ship," he sings, eight verses into the 10-verse chorus-less diatribe of Leaving LA.
From sombre singer-songwriter through to perky freak-folk wanderer, and now a sassy amalgam of US shock-comic Louis CK and singer Warren Zevon in a silk smoking jacket - or, in his own words, a "sarcastic Michael Bublé" - the evolution of Joshua Tillman has been an enthralling one. His third album under the Father John Misty name, following a string of solemn, self-titled solo albums, 'Pure Comedy' is a powerful piece of work, but one that will leave you with as many questions as it does answers. Musically, we're on pretty familiar territory; a little soulful Jackson Browne, a smidge of acoustic Neil Young and even a touch of piano-tinkling Elton John, as well as a gospel choir thrown into the mix, but this is a record that sets itself apart by virtue of its lyrics.
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.
Back in 2015 Josh Tillman could do no wrong. Stepping out from behind the Fleet Foxes drum kit he begrudgingly inhabited between 2007-2012, a solid decade of disinterest in his solo albums somehow turned into MistyMania overnight. Yes, the likes of I Will Return and Singing Ax hinted at an artist slowly moving on from erudite alt.folk, but not even his swaggering debut as Father John Misty (2012's hedonistic Laurel Canyon rollercoaster, Fear Fun) prepared us for I Love You, Honeybear.
Five years since his mushroom-induced epiphany and creative rebirth as Father John Misty - and the sterling songs and surreal, funny adventures of 2012's Fear Fun and 2015's I Love You, Honeybear - Josh Tillman has shrewdly realised that he was perhaps in danger of painting himself into a corner as a dark humorist. So in spite of the new album's gag-promising title, this 75-minute-long epic is way lighter on the ironic jokery. Instead, the jumping-off point is his last record's highlight: the laughter track-aided, Randy Newman-fashioned commentary on modern malaise in Bored In The USA.
Pure Comedy lives up to its title. It's a comedy in every sense of the word. Absurdity is the order of the day. There are jokes around every turn. The central joke being the perfectly dissonant balance of sincerity and sarcasm conveyed by music and lyrics alike. It makes sense Father John Misty is ….
In an increasingly painful era of overshared information, Joshua Tillman is something of a gift and a curse. He's an undeniably distinct songwriter and lyricist with a beautiful voice. But he's also well-read, verbose, and unafraid to drop passing references to Foucault, Hesse, and Plato in interviews and songs. Moreover, Tillman is an endlessly charming figure who accents his talents with a clearly contrived sex symbol image and knowing humor.
After a number of solo albums as J. Tillman and a stint as Fleet Foxes' drummer, Josh Tillman created Father John Misty to find his real voice. It seems to be paying off as he moves to the third album under his eccentric moniker, a musically quieter and lyrically more expansive follow-up to 2015's I Love You, Honeybear. Pure Comedy raises the stakes, moving from an already ambitious personal concept album to a wider exploration of what it means to be human.
"Leaving L. A. " isn't the best song on Father John Misty's monumental third LP, Pure Comedy, but it's a fitting microcosm for it: The epic, 13-minute centrepiece is lyrically dense, slightly funny but mostly darkly straightforward and, despite a lack of strong hooks -- or in this specific case, a chorus -- warmly melodic and beautifully arranged.
At a concert this past July, Josh Tillman inadvertently summed up his approach to Pure Comedy, his third album as Father John Misty, with one statement in the midst of an extended rant: “Maybe just take a moment to be really fucking profoundly sad. ” While one particular event may have triggered his despondence in that instance (the RNC had just nominated Donald Trump for president), the rest of what he had to say indicated that he was down on all of humanity, not just its “next potential Idiot King,” as he put it in an online note the following day. He also bemoaned a population “so numb and so fucking sated and so gorged on entertainment” that “stupidity just fucking runs the world,” before ending his set after only two songs.
Often, the best things take time. Strong cheese. Fine wine. Records that demand more than a cursory run through on a Spotify playlist to hit home. Such is the way with ‘Pure Comedy’ - the third album from Josh Tillman’s musical alter ego Father John Misty. Where 2015’s ….
Like anything that comes out of the mouth of Father John Misty -- the hipster gadfly persona Josh Tillman adopted after leaving the Fleet Foxes in 2012 -- it can be difficult to discern whether the title of Pure Comedy is intended sincerely. Father John Misty cherishes his public role as a prankster, a stance that can sometimes seem at odds with his grand artistic ambitions. And, make no mistake about it, Pure Comedy is indeed a very grand record, an old-fashioned major statement designed to evoke memories of classic long-players from the '70s.
Under the guise of Father John Misty, Josh Tillman has been updating the singer-songwriter tradition for our post-ironic era, tapping and tweaking its melodicism and "sincerity. " After devoting his last FJM album, 2015's I Love You, Honeybear, to unpacking romantic love, Tillman ups the ante on his third album to take on the whole human condition. That's the comedy in Pure Comedy's title track: Echoing his Seventies forebears, Randy Newman above all, he discourses on the evolutionary roots of gender inequity and our insatiable appetite for painkillers and religion.
On his 2015 breakthrough album, I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman (better known as Father John Misty) waxed poetic about capitalism and middle-class malaise, but mostly he explored romance, monogamy and his own recent marriage. The Tillman of Pure Comedy, however, is in full cultural-criticism mode, analyzing politics, celebrity obsession, social media, the environment and the impending doom of humankind. Yes, when stacked next to each other, those themes have a whiff of pretension that will likely rile his detractors.
Warning! Don't read Josh Tillman's, a.k.a. Father John Misty's, expansive treatise about his new album before listening to it. The rambling six-page, 1,770 word document attempts to explain the concept behind this equally sprawling 13 track, 75 minute follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2015 I Love You, Honeybear release. It contains sentences such as the opening "Pure Comedy is the story of a species born with a half-formed brain.
Much of the conversation surrounding Father John Misty revolves around whether or not he is in on the joke, or if there even is a joke to begin with. Take last year's BBC 6 Music interview where an audibly exhausted Joshua Tillman was said to have 'lost it' in the face of top banter merchants Radcliffe and Maconie acting ignorant to the point that they simply weren't listening to the words posited before them. Recalling the exchange, Tillman chose to bear the brunt, noting that he was 'completely fucked up' on the morning in question.
Since releasing 2012's Fear Fun, his debut album under the Father John Misty moniker, Josh Tillman has emerged as one of pop music's most profound provocateurs, waxing philosophic about the shallowness of Top 40 pop in interviews and offering up lyrics about death and sex with a daring frankness. Just two years after his breakthrough I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman is back with his third album, Pure Comedy. The 75-minute opus is his most boldly experimental and richly produced album to date, with 13 songs that touch on baroque pop, orchestral folk, stark piano balladry, and even gospel.
Father John Misty presents a sprawling double-feature: the skewering of an infantile generation, and the self-skewering of its author. From the mind of an apocalyptically inclined neurotic, who reads Žižek and Freud and believes humanity is condemned to moral chaos, comes Pure Comedy , a grueling, often inspired odyssey that screams to be taken as art. Across its 75 minutes, humility is scarce.
Honeybear stood out as an album about love that was neither passé nor cringe, that is if you have the chutzpah to call it an album about love - it was more of an album about insecurity riddled with randy one liners, serving as an honest portrayal of modern romance rather than a meticulously-planned Instagram brunch with 'bae' or a sunset walk with 'this one'; it was a fucked-up love album for fucked-up times, if you will. In that regard, it's interesting just how similar Pure Comedy is to Honeybear, despite their obvious differences. While they have their similarities in terms of core brutal honesty and irony, the subject matters are inherently separated - Comedy serves as take on the pitiful state of modern politics, whereas Honeybear focused on removing bland clichés from music about romance.
Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward path had been lost. On first listen, Pure Comedy's most impressive achievement is that it makes 74 minutes feel like 150. A pastiche of early '70s Elton John without the smiles, Randy Newman for the blog set, and a much more woke Gram Parsons, all set to a persistently gorgeous yet resolutely unexciting mid-tempo slog, Pure Comedy will probably not win over many new fans for Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman.
Josh Tillman wanted to make his masterpiece. Nothing could be more clear. Beyond this, what we find within Pure Comedy can be inscrutable. When Father John Misty presented us with I Love You, Honeybear, his recent marriage had brought out the unimaginable from the constantly jesting, wannabe playboy: sincerity.
The Upshot: Josh Tillman returns, all his idiosyncrasies intact. BY LEE ZIMMERMAN Ever since he launched his career five years and three albums ago, Father John Misty, A.K.A. Josh Tillman, has remained an idiosyncratic character, one capable of producing breathtaking melodies with a clever tack that aims high but still stays well within reach of his listeners.
Y ou could describe Father John Misty as a satirical maverick; you get the feeling he would like you to. In 2012, Josh Tillman, the former Fleet Foxes drummer, released Fear Fun, a gonzoid set of songs about a druggy Californian breakdown, the first under his pseudonym. In 2015 he followed it with I Love You, Honeybear. The funny, filthy, orchestral tale of how a messed-up male cynic found love in a corrupted world, it instantly surpassed his previous work.
I Love You, Honeybear - Josh Tillman's second album under the Father John Misty moniker - received near universal critical acclaim upon its release in February 2015. Both silly and sincere, soppy and sarcastic, self-aggrandising and self-lacerating, Honeybear told the tale of a "horny, man-child, Mamma's boy" and a Goddess meeting each other in the middle as man and wife. It signalled the blossoming of a captivating, distinctly modern voice, his lyrics wrapped in luxurious, easy-on-the-ear updates on Elton John and Randy Newman's piano ballads, country crows and glam stomps.
The video for one of the most anticipated debut singles in music history begins with the words: "We're Arctic Monkeys. This is I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. Don't believe the hype." Back in 2005, anyone, including the band themselves, would certainly have been justified in getting carried away. Having cultivated a ferociously devoted fanbase during the boom years of MySpace, Arctic Monkeys were receiving blanket coverage and adulation, and it wouldn't have been a surprise had they let that go to their heads and thought they'd got it made.
In his novel Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut warned that human brains, those merry pranksters stored in our skulls, can sometimes turn against their hosts. They, he said, “tell their owners, in effect, ‘Here is a crazy thing we could actually do, probably, but we would never do it, of course. It’s just fun to think about.’” In true fashion, and short order, a cosmic punchline followed.
Is it the crooner, the melancholy reflection, the intense stare or the fact he treats us all with such disdain that we love? Who knows, but Father John Misty's back and we're all weak at the knees. This third album doesn't stray too far from what we fell in love with on 2015's 'Honeybear' or 2012's 'Fear Fun'. It's a hybrid of angst and sarcasm and pure beauty.
Like a magician showing you the cards up his sleeve, Josh Tillman wants to wow you with the fact that he's pulling off a trick as much as he wants to wow you with the trick itself. Hell, Josh Tillman wants to wow you by rolling his eyes at other magicians even as pulls a rabbit from his hat. The music itself is florid, the satire is incisive, and yet the one is constantly undercutting the other - and intentionally, while he flashes a smile.
Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, is something of a rarity--a bona fide indie rock star in an era where the relevance of what we call "indie rock" has largely diminished, whose mouthy interviews and louche affectations have won him as much attention as his actual music. Contemporary culture has produced no shortage of successful musicians, but not a lot of interesting ones, and Tillman has hipped himself to a game that rewards artists who seemingly go out of their way to not be boring. Emerging from the agrarian dreamscape of Fleet Foxes, where he played drums, Tillman rocketed to notoriety following a majestic late show performance of "Bored in the USA.