It’s safe to say we may have reached peak Father John Misty fatigue as he’s been on the promotion trail for his new record Pure Comedy. However, if you can get past that unmistakable feeling of being rubbed the wrong way by the Father John Misty public persona, Pure Comedy can be appreciated as a record wholly of its time. The man behind the moniker, Josh Tillman, actually wrote much of Pure Comedy back in 2015 before it seemed like the world would fall apart, so it’s something of an accident that it feels like something created post-election. Where 2015’s excellent I Love You, Honeybear was, at its core, a record about love, Pure Comedy is much murkier and darker. It is a commentary on the state of humanity that leaves us feeling hopeless about the future. In other words, why even bother to go on?
As always, Tillman is a master of language, crafting intricate and astute observations so full of minute details, his songs can sometimes be exhausting. Still, though, they’re pretty. He has a crystalline singing voice that cuts through the atmosphere so cleanly and sweetly, even when his lyrics are conveying his cynical worldviews. And in 2017, it is hard to hold that perspective against him. “If you want ecstasy or birth control/Just run the tap until the water’s cold/Anything else you can get online/A creation mind or a 45/you’re gonna need one or the other to survive,” he sings on “Leaving LA”, a tragic ballad about growing tired of just about everything in his environment. Everything is fake; everything is bullshit. In the 13-minute track, it begins to feel like Tillman is running through a checklist of all the things he hates about Los Angeles, but as with most of his songs, it is tough to determine how genuine he is.
Pure Comedy is mostly ballads, which can make it feel like it’s dragging. At an hour and 15 minutes, it can feel like you’ve been listening to a hearty podcast about current events and the ways people are destroying the world, with their fast food and sweat shops. This is not a record to feel good to, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some softer spots. “Smoochie” is a glowy, swooning love song, and “Birdie” is haunting and hypnotic. “Ballad of a Dying Man”, though morbid, has one of Pure Comedy’s lushest melodies. His dry sense of humor and overt self-awareness manifests in one of the most important lines on the whole record on “Leaving LA”: “That’s just what we all need/Another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.” Pure Comedy is best when we keep in mind that Tillman isn’t taking himself too seriously. And that he is throwing in the occasional wink.