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Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Apr 5, 2017.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    “I think most peoples’ idea of authenticity is pork pie hats and vests and banjos and whatever else, but real authenticity is just empathy, because everyone views their own experiences as being the golden standard for authenticity. If you can empathize with people and make them feel like what you’re talking about is somehow reflective of their own experiences, then you’ve won their vanity, and thus achieved authenticity.”

    This is a quote from Father John Misty’s episode of Pitchfork’s Over/Under series, a series Josh Tillman jokingly referred to as a “twisted game” as he and his wife were asked to rate such concepts as self-control, marriage, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was Tillman’s explanation of “authenticity,” and though he never formally “rates” the concept, his answer may outline the biggest problem with Pure Comedy, his third album under the FJM moniker. It’s not necessarily Tillman’s polarizing personality (or character, as some call it). It’s not the album’s excessive 74-minute runtime, or even its questionable sequencing.

    Quite simply, it’s hard to empathize with someone who’s talking down to you.

    While Tillman’s opus, 2015’s I Love You Honeybear, attempted to unravel his personal and romantic life by way of introversion, on Pure Comedy, he seems satisfied with pointing the finger at anyone but himself. He blames a culture that values entertainment over art for the Trump Administration, conservatives for normalizing hatred and bigotry and liberals for the appropriating the term “progress.” In fact, there’s hardly a vulnerable moment on the album until “Leaving L.A.,” a 14-minute centerpiece that begins with the usual snark (“These L.A. phonies and their bullshit bands/Just sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant”), brushes over the disappointment and death of his father and ends with an allegory about a near-death experience Tillman had as a boy in a J.C. Penny store as Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” played over the store’s speakers.

    If this all sounds a bit exhausting, well, it is. But it’s also an integral piece of Pure Comedy, a song that should never be skipped in context of the album. In fact, it might just be the most genuine song Tillman has ever written.

    The rest of Pure Comedy’s lyrical content is no less dense. During several songs, he references a dystopian, future when politics no longer matter and humans have returned to some sort of hunter-gatherer state. The is “the comedy,” the irony that we rely so much upon technology and social currency that eventually, it destroys us and ultimately sets the clock back to zero. Was that the plot to Fight Club? I think that was the plot to Fight Club. These concepts are not new, making Tillman’s condescension even more souring and his recent vitriolic takedown of pop music even more ironic considering what he owes to those who came before him.

    Ultimately, his message isn’t different; he just chooses to say it in decidedly more, and larger, words.

    He (or perhaps more accurately, his brand) also thrives on pop-culture. “Father John Misty Sings About VR Sex With Taylor Swift,” read headlines meant to make readers either chuckle or roll their eyes, as long as they’re pressing play all the same. The lyric in question (“Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift/After Mister and the Missus finish dinner and the dishes”) comes from “Total Entertainment Forever,” an earworm that brims with upbeat acoustic guitar and a full horn section. Later, on “Ballad of the Dying Man,” he sings about a man checking his newsfeed one last time upon his deathbed. “So says the Dying Man once I’m in the box, ‘Just think of all the overrated hacks running amok/And all of the pretentious, ignorant voices that will go unchecked/The homophobes, hipsters and one percent’/The false feminists he’d managed to detect/Who will critique them once he’s left?,” Tillman croons in one of his wittier moments.

    These are all reasons to loathe, or love, Father John Misty. And yet, it would be disingenuous to ignore the other side of Pure Comedy – it’s beauty.

    Sonically, the piano is front and center here, often surrounded by meticulous orchestration. A symphony accompanies the album’s unflinching title track, matching Tillman’s energy as he compares our current culture to “something that a madman would conceive.” Later, the piano plays a key role in “Things That Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” an early album standout that substitutes choruses for simplistic verses that detail life after some kind of economic upheaval. The album juxtaposes its organic instrumentation with a number of synthetic sounds, from the glitchy field recordings that kick of the album to the warbling synth of “A Bigger Paper Bag.” While Tillman appears to have been influenced by Elton John and Billy Joel this time around, these soundbites often lend to the Pure Comedy’s experimental, Beatles-esque moments. Even “Birdie,” a song that nearly halts all of the momentum of the album’s first half, benefits from a massive, cinematic swell during its bridge.

    If you managed to stomach (or perhaps even enjoy) the lyrical content discussed up to this point, you’ll be relieved to hear that Tillman once again becomes self-reflective on Pure Comedy’s breathtaking penultimate and closing tracks, “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” and “In Twenty Years or So” (respectively). The former is the album’s second 10+ minute ballad, a soundscape that builds upon layers of shimmering synth while the latter is a simple acoustic number that bookends Pure Comedy with the album’s most stunning, dizzying use of strings.

    So perhaps the reason Josh Tillman never “rated” authenticity is because Father John Misty never claimed to be “authentic.” The debate about his personality/character rages on, but at this point, with all the talk about entertainment vs. art during the album’s rollout, it seems clear that the moniker is not simply a lark for Tillman (even if he rides for Nickelback). Pure Comedy is a gorgeous album, an album that will remain important in the context of Tillman’s career, but above all things, it’s a genuine album. Sometimes, it’s hard to empathize with someone who refuses to tell you what you want to hear – even if it’s the truth.

  2. DaydreamNation Apr 5, 2017
    (Last edited: Apr 5, 2017)

    there’ll be a knock Supporter

    It's too bad this dude has turned into walking contrived clickbait bullshit because Fear Fun was a really good record.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  3. Have you heard this album yet? Or I Love You, Honeybear?
  4. DaydreamNation

    there’ll be a knock Supporter

    I hated Honeybear when it came out. Haven't heard this record but have heard enough of the pre-album tracks to know it's definitely not for me.
  5. Shame, because they're even better records, haha.
  6. Great review! Hilarious that Amy Grant gets a shout-out, haha
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  7. Thanks Chase! B-)
    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  8. somethingliketj

    And that's why you always leave a note.

    I'm exhausted already.
    Thanks for preparing me, haha.
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  9. Jonathan

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Verified

    I got my deluxe vinyl yesterday but the download card won't work until Friday, so I'm kinda waiting for it to his Apple Music. Admittedly I buy vinyl most of the time for the lush artwork and color variants, etc…
    Serenity Now and Aaron Mook like this.
  10. Oh man. So you don't have a turntable? The deluxe package is gorgeous.
  11. I hate this album.

    It's maybe a top 10 most arduous listening process for painfully bad music I've ever gone though. It leaked so long ago I kept thinking sooner or later it would click. Nope, flat out hate this one.
  12. ianzandi


    I also listened to the leak awhile back and I absolutely love this album. I get why people hate his "character", but I love the satire. Real wordsmith with hints of Randy Newman at times
    AngryMan and Serenity Now like this.
  13. Hah, I was thinking about your reaction to this album as I was writing and I've been meaning to ask: what exactly do you hate about this album, if that's not too much of a loaded question? Like, do you hate every aspect of it, individual songs and all? Do you hate this album because of what it tries to be, and do you think it fails in that aspect? Is it sonically unappealing to you as well? I'm really curious, because I haven't seen you hate an album quite like this in a while and I'm just surprised that there seems to be no redeeming qualities for you throughout some of these songs

    Anyways, thanks for publishing and I hope you still enjoyed or at least found something interesting within the review!
  14. Well, you see, now I just wanna go listen to the Toy Story Original Soundtrack
    ianzandi likes this.
  15. jpmalone4

    Stay Lucky Supporter

    I love this album but I have to take a break and listen to it in two halves. For me, this is less Elton/Joel and more Lennon.
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  16. Aaron Mook Apr 5, 2017
    (Last edited: Apr 5, 2017)
    That's a good comparison, too.
  17. Hah, well to be fair, the review might be my longest ever (which is fitting given the album length). But yeah, it's a doozy
    somethingliketj likes this.
  18. mattfreaksmeout

    Trusted Supporter

    This is a great review. Sums up the record pretty well in my opinion. I've still only listened once, but considering the first 4 tracks released all grew on me quite a bit from first listen, and I enjoyed the album as a whole on first listen.
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  19. Thanks for reading!
    mattfreaksmeout likes this.
  20. oldjersey

    Pro Podcaster Supporter

    I thought you're not allowed to hate music :eh:
  21. ianzandi


    I watched that movie so many times as a kid I can quote it forwards and backwards. That VHS tape was abused till its end
    Aaron Mook and Chase Tremaine like this.
  22. Is this a reference to something?
  23. oldjersey

    Pro Podcaster Supporter

    Yeah people were jumpin down Tates throat for slamming a band/album he didnt like a few months ago. I forget the band name and i'm sure he doesn't want to revisit it. It was silly.
  24. Serenity Now

    deliver us from e-mail Supporter

    Great review. Well written.

    Hoping to get a cool vinyl variant at my record store this Friday.

    Love this album above all of his others. Lyrically, it would make Bill Hicks & Charles Bukowski proud.
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  25. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Commenting so I remember to read this tomorrow (and maybe give this album another try).

    So far, I'm of a mind with Jason on this one. I enjoyed Honeybear, but this album was just painful to sit through. I don't know if it's the "worst" album I've heard this year, but it is definitely the one I liked the least.