Father John Misty releases prophetic album
The Santa Clara
April 20, 2017
For Josh Tillman, who releases music under the pseudonym Father John Misty, chaos and doom has always seemed inescapable and inevitable. Yet, with “Pure Comedy”—the artist’s latest musical endeavor—Tillman’s perpetual cynicism proves ironically to be his own undoing.
The album, released on April 7 not only features Tillman’s typical sweeping vocals, but thematically, also explores a near apocalyptic world, in which the singer predicts that the worst of humanity will eventually override anything worth saving. But what even inspired Tillman to write about such horrifying ideas?
It might appear that the election of Donald Trump—which Tillman has affectionately called “the spiritual death of dignity”—spurred his creativity to make an album about the demise of mankind. Yet, oddly enough, the musician actually wrote most of the album in 2015, at a time when many still strongly believed the country would never be ruled by a reality star. In that sense then, Tillman, with his dark and twisted lyrics, perhaps predicted our strange state.
Nonetheless, as a collective body of work, “Pure Comedy” tends to drag on monotonously in both tone and style. The songs smoothly blend into one another, in effect forming one long soft-rock ballad with heavy folk influence. It would make for easy listening were it not for Tillman’s decidedly unsettling lyrics about all of humanity’s flaws.
And cynicism isn’t necessarily breaking new ground for the artist. After all, part of Father John Misty’s rise to fame stems from his penchant for singing about ugly realities in a sweet voice. In his 2015 album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” Tillman opened the record softly singing, “Oh, honeybear, honeybear, honeybear / Mascara, blood, ash and c*m.”
In that previous album, Tillman held a similarly bitter view of humanity, but was also influenced by the tender love he has for his wife, Emma. He was at his most vulnerable—a man falling in love.
Yet the power of love that was so pervasive throughout “I Love You, Honeybear” suddenly feels absent on the newest album. Without it, we’re left with the raw neurotic psyche of Father John Misty and everything that is wrong with society.
In that sense then, “Pure Comedy” serves as a foil to “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper’s recordbreaking mixtape that was released last year. Writing the album shortly after the birth of his first child, Chance celebrates life and the power of God through hip hop and gospel-fused lyrics. As the Chicagoborn rapper even sings on one of the tracks, “It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap.”
In contrast, Father John Misty opens “Pure Comedy” crooning, “The comedy of man starts like this / Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips.” In other words, he wastes no time in telling the listener that he thinks humans are doomed from their beginnings.
Likewise, on “Ballad of the Dying Man,” Tillman sings, “Eventually the dying man takes his final breath … And it occurs to him a little late in the game / We leave as clueless as we came.” Clearly then, the only thing Tillman is certain of is uncertainty itself. Quite the cheery thought.
And on the last song of the album, “In Twenty Years or So”— which relies on a dramatic, but melancholy instrumental section to fill most of the song’s six minutes—Tillman softly sings in his lullaby-like voice, “Oh I read somewhere / That in twenty years / More or less / This human experience will reach its violent end.” He ends the song crooning, “There’s nothing to fear.” In the ever-socynical world of Father John Misty, nothing matters because we’re all doomed—and yes, that’s supposed to be comforting.
So if nothing matters and humans are ill-fated from the start, what is there to even be gleaned from “Pure Comedy?” The creativity behind Tillman’s previous work still shines through the album’s 13 tracks, leaving listeners assured of Father John Misty’s talent as a musician.
But beyond that, to answer succinctly, not much can really be drawn from Tillman’s latest endeavor. Music serves as an escape from reality, and if you just happen to be looking for a nearly hour and a half long dark and cynical escape, then “Pure Comedy” is the perfect album for you. For now though, I’ll stick to “Coloring Book.”
Contact Lindsay Tenes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.