Recommendations from Now and Then : Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy
Written by Rohan Mehta
“The comedy of man starts like this…”
Josh Tillman AKA the mythical hermit intellect known to fatalistically sing about the ills of the world through the lenses of postmodern irony and hyper-self-aware meta-commentary, shows you through his magnum opus, his third album ‘Pure Comedy’, the embodiments of universal world-weariness in the new existential age.
The singer-songwriter, if that’s the label we’re going to go with, is known for his sardonic wit and easily, the most complex pieces of writing that any songwriter can ever hope to imitate (sorry Michael Stipe).
On the album Pure Comedy, Tillman’s songs contain an orchestra’s bravado, paired with the comedic insights of a delusional street dweller preaching his newfound doctrine to the masses on a rickety soapbox - rightfully putting the ‘father’ in Father John Misty.
His songs carry the weight of Bukowski’s crude humour and deep depression, while presenting it in the grandiose revelations that come with Shakespearean plays, without the flashiness of course.
A variation of the album art from FJM’s ‘Pure Comedy’ depicting impish creatures committing all kinds of carnal, absurd and generally unsavoury things- a representation of the world through Misty’s eyes.
Now, misty doesn’t go into a monologue with a skull or gets into an elaborate wrestling match with satire, but he sure looks like he could and his loyal fan base has been preaching his brand of existentialist monologues ever since he last spouted them on his previous album, ‘I Love You, Honeybear’.
Pure Comedy is that perfect existential monologue that you want to sing at a bar dead drunk at 2:34am (of course, you wouldn’t want to be there!)
The album title hinting to the obvious allusion to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ puts a more critical tone on the table than his past releases: the album is a critique of the world at large and more importantly, like any true existentialist, Misty himself.
The Songs, The message
The album opener of the same title, Pure Comedy, details on Misty taking the audience through the times of Adam and Eve to the times of Walmart and the modern human condition.
Misty presents with his opening lines, the tragic “Comedy of Man” accompanied with celestial keys and small murmurs in the background, detailing on the condemned nature of the human race while yelping and burping out the exhausting nature of this whole process.
Misty’s never sounded this concise about any topic he’s ever come across before, often wearing irony and wit as a shield against total sincerity. But the crisp delivery of the lyrics on the song, accompanied with clean cut acoustics and abrasive orchestral flourishes have really one-upped Misty’s bravado as a singer-songwriter.
The opener summarises the saga that is this double feature length ‘bible for depressives’, complete with jabs at the exhaustive feuds between the left and right wing ideologies in modern America, the never-ending need to constantly consume media and entertainment and to finally suggest that humans, as a species, are not only aware but content in performing several meaningless acts of self-destruction that will both sustain and eventually, corrode society.
The rest of the 12 ballads on the album involve the sleek and precise Misty to handsomely takedown, deconstruct and mangle bits and pieces of all the troubles that he feels will lead to humanity’s doom. . .soon enough, we’ll get there.
Misty’s soapbox transforms into a well-built state of the art travelling pedestal as he battles the ills of consumer culture on the track ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ while throwing the first pitchfork at the human race’s need to pollute the environment in its constant quest for entertainment in the song ‘A bigger Paper Bag’ but the song that really steals the proverbial worm-infested birthday cake is the thirteen minute heart breaking ballad ‘Leaving LA’.
The song truly stands as the album’s highlight, nestled deep inside the track-list, is Misty at his most personal and vulnerable since his days of releasing records under the Tillman name.
Misty details on the hardships that come with fame, the abuse of living in an overly religious family while trying to comprehend what could be the legacy he is building for himself, like this part from the song-
“And I'm merely a minor fascination to
Manic virginal lust and college dudes
I'm beginning to begin to see the end
Of how it all goes down between me and them
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"
The album, just like the song, begins with a critique of the world that slowly metamorphose into this barrage of fingers pointing back at Misty, making listeners feel like we’re here just to experience this man go through his own journey of coming to terms with the condition of the world, one lyrically dense song at a time.
The sheer magnitude of complex arguments made in this manifesto are baffling in their own rights but the apocalyptic overtones that are carefully stitched into the fabric of each track create an entire world, a parody of our world, trying to prove its validity through each concise and well written point made to, on one hand, prove why we don’t deserve to exist, while on the other, compassionately try to defend the citizens of such a world, and it’s purposes, grease spots, loose folds and all.
The Crucifixion of our lord and Savior Macaulay Culkin dressed up as Kurt Cobain by those god-hating McDonald employees for the music video of ‘Total Entertainment Forever’. The many absurdist symbols displaying the abandonment and distortion of all bygone sources of entertainment (and the people who helped supply it too-look at that saxophone playing Bill Clinton!).
FYI, FJM is the guy with the hooks for hands on the right.
The Final Cut
Misty’s music can often prove to be ‘meta’ and isolating for most commercial audiences. The length of the tracks on ‘Pure Comedy’ doesn’t help either.
The dense subject matter usually ends up turning away the Saturday night crowd of music listeners who rather listen to catchy pop jams than be scolded by a man singing about the uneasy truths that come with religion, commercialism and well. . . the human condition. It can get preachy, it gets bleak. I get it.
But if you don’t fall under this category of unlucky-many, I would highly recommend giving this album a listen. It’s equal to having the most intriguing, knowledgeable and enlightening table-talk conversation you could ever have.
The album is more thought than sound, as most singer-songwriter albums are.
For the most part, it’s as skeletal as it gets. It’s a man, switching between his acoustic guitar and a grand piano. That’s Misty’s most well-known suit.
But the addition of the string section mends any layers that the song writing had not already draped on itself.
The bleakness of the lyrics are packaged within such rich, luscious melodies that the discomforting nature of the former is offset by the impressive beauty carved in sonically. It’s quite a huge pill to swallow an album discussing such unpalatable topics yet sounding so equally gracious and grand during the process.
Misty is very much living his caricature of the post-truth era (or at least a brilliant caricature of the times he finds himself in) just as he has with his previous efforts. But this time around, he offers a helping hand to whatever little part of humanity is still vested within his listeners.
Thus, it can also feel like a stab at your neck, beating you on the head with philosophical punctuations and scenery, but that’s the fun part! If that’s your idea of a good time or you’re looking for someone to challenge your world view (or maybe compliment it),
I suggest you start listening to this album now!