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August 5, 2020

Father John Misty succeeds on Pure Comedy

By AMANDA AUBLE | April 27, 2017

Unafraid to confront complex philosophical themes in music, Father John Misty questions what it means to be human in his latest folk rock album, Pure Comedy. Released on April 7, the album boasts orchestral-sounding tracks that criticize mankind with biting wit.

This marks the third album Josh Tillman has produced under the pseudonym Father John Misty. The long-haired, bearded singer-songwriter has already established himself as an ironic lyricist and a flamboyant, unapologetic stage performer. Misty continues to enhance his satirical vision in this new album.

From the start, the title track “Pure Comedy” introduces listeners to themes like birth, religion, gender roles, disillusionment and contradiction. Misty’s falsetto vocals crescendo as he asserts that life is, “something a madman would conceive.”

Along with his 13-track album, Misty also released a 1,800-word essay and a 20-minute black-and-white film that both continue to promote his ambitions. In these supplementary materials, Misty invites his listeners to imagine that they’re “way out in space looking at the earth” as they start to free-fall for the duration of album’s 75 total minutes.

For anyone currently suffering an existential crisis, joining Misty on this free-fall can offer deliverance. Odds are, Misty has already agonized over the same existential questions and translated this struggle into his album. No concept feels too large or too absurd.

Like the title suggests, comedy is Misty’s best weapon for critique on this album. Modernizing the storytelling found in traditional folk songs, “Ballad of the Dying Man” analyzes human temporality but with an ironic twist. Misty scrutinizes life’s journey as a cycle where, “we leave as clueless as we came.”

However, in this same narrative, he depicts the dying man’s absurd need to scroll through his newsfeed before taking his last breath.

By far the most upbeat song on the album, “Total Entertainment Forever,” takes on American celebrity culture and our reliance on technology with piercing humor.

Even though he couches some powerful ideas with commentary, Misty proves that he can have some meaning moments of reflection like in “Things That Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution.” This song features Misty’s pining voice guiding listeners through a dystopian world that is less than ideal even after a revolution has succeeded.

While Pure Comedy fearlessly confronts the daunting questions that have echoed across humanity, Misty’s tireless effort also makes this an overall heavy-handed album. One can only take so much philosophizing and brooding before depression sets in. If the existential dread has yet to set in, this album can be an immediate mood killer. Just the album’s sheer length alone can alienate listeners.

The 13-minute-long “Leaving LA” serves as an example of Misty going too far with his analytical brooding. While Misty shares personal stories that are relevant and compelling, this track piles on the pessimistic critiques of the entertainment industry.

“These L.A. phonies and their bullshit bands / That sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant,” Misty sings.

Although this song is an onslaught of Misty’s opinions about artifice, what salvages this song is its consistent self-awareness. Misty recognizes his own verbosity and doesn’t even spare himself from his own satire.

“Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe / Plays as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy / This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die’,” he sings.

Pure Comedy is also masterfully produced in the studio. Misty layers string sections, piano and full choirs to make his songs feel as grand as his lyrics. Songs like “Birdie” also show notable technological additions to his standard folk genre.

This album shows Misty moving beyond music to create a multimedia experience. From the aforementioned video to the album’s cover layered with zany black-and-white cartoons like a proud body builder carrying a cross as his workout, Pure Comedy provides listeners with endless stimulation.

Anyone looking for music with a message should turn to Pure Comedy.

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