If you took the satirical great American novel and turned it in to a record, would it be a tragedy? Possibly you come up with your own, still following the narrative structure and looking at life as some big joke in a comedy show. Either way you look at it, it is a feat of writing no matter what. This is exactly what Father John Misty has set out to do with his latest release “Pure Comedy.”
Joshua Michael “Josh” Tillman is best known by his stage name, Father John Misty. From Maryland, the singer/songwriter has played with myriad other indie-rock bands, with the most notable being Fleet Foxes. He also has helped contribute to some big names in music as well, working with acts such as Kid Cudi and Lady Gaga. He has a solo career dating as far back as 2004. While working under the name Father John Misty, he has only been active for the last five years. Releasing only two other albums under the stage name, “Fear Fun” and “I Love You, Honeybear,” he found a great deal of praise from critics with both releases. This now brings us to the highly anticipated third studio album for Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy.”
“Pure Comedy” is a 13-track record that clocks in at around an hour and 15 minutes in length. This album is as ambitious as it is theatrical. It seeks to outdo its predecessor in every conceivable way possible. Whether it accomplishes this is still very debatable. The folk-indie rock charm has its moments throughout the entire record and there are moments where it seems slow down as a whole. Overall, creating a record on everything from religion to the entertainment industry itself is a pretty creative and fresh topic to hear.
Musically, “Pure Comedy” has one major flaw. It is held back by the slow tempo of many of the piano tracks. It gets to the point where rhythms and chords are being played and listeners just get the feeling of ‘I heard this before.’ On the other hand, some of the ballads are admirable in both their style and the number of layers mixed in with them. Upon listening to tracks like “Ballad of the Dying Man” or even “Smoochie,” there is this sense of the classic Father John Misty sound plus a fresh energy that is also soothing. It is hard getting into the album, though; the title track “Pure Comedy” tries to be more different from the rest and it is just off-putting.
There is one song we must talk about separately from the rest. That is the centerpiece of the album, the 13-minute-long “Leaving LA.” While the rhythm and melody never change throughout the entire piece, this ballad alone is so well written it makes it worth picking up this record by itself. This song has everything from compassion and hope to regret and misery. This is the one song that sticks around long after listening and it keeps listeners coming back again and again. This is the one song that shows off Misty’s songwriting at its best. He looks at himself in a way most artist would not, whether that be the self-indulgence or struggle with fame. “Leaving LA” is an ode to his career and is the easily the standout track from this entire record.
Getting back to the rest of the album, lyrically, this is some heavy music. Misty has found a new nuanced way to tell humanity that we have completely lost our way. There is no struggle selling that idea either; when listening to “In Twenty Years Or So” or even “A Bigger Paper Bag” it makes listeners look into themselves. However, the music does not do a lot of the songwriting justice. Every track is another nail in the coffin of the listener’s own perception of humanity. It quickly begins to blur the lines of satire and harsh reality. Even tracks like “Birdie” or “Two Wildly Different Perspectives” exemplify some of the strongest songwriting on this record outside of “Leaving LA.” While “Pure Comedy” may not follow a narrative structure that “I Love You, Honeybear” did, it takes a whole new look on life in a way that surpasses comparison between the two records.
Should you listen to it?: Absolutely!
“Pure Comedy” is some of the strongest songwriting audiences have seen in a very long time, enough so that it rivals that of some novels. It is only held back by the one thing audiences really care about when it comes to a great album, music. Father John Misty did an amazing job of delivering a meaningful and masterful album, though. Tracks like “Leaving LA” alone make this album worth picking up. No matter how one looks at it, this album will do the one thing any music lovers always hope it will do; it speaks to you on a level nothing else can.
Collegian reporter Alec Erickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CTV_Ace.