They say that the greatest tragedies mould into the greatest comedies with time, and what greater tragedy is their than humanity itself. Thanks to new political awakenings, technological advancements, and a new age of civil discord, the world and the people on it struggle to keep up. As a way to survive this realisation our society has built itself three options. Some revel in this new era, embracing this new climate, kicking and screaming, contributing to the madness. Some try to ignore the problem, numbing the pain through the means of drugs or online entertainment. And some mock with little regard, singing and dancing around the dumpster fire that we ourselves have created. In a way, this has always been the case for humanity, since we were simple hunter gatherers. For Indie Folk prince Josh Tillman, also known under the name Father John Misty, this has always been the case, and his ability to cope through the third option is a godsend. The urban cowboy’s latest effort Pure Comedy proves this theory, acting as a 71-minute dissection of the human condition from a jaded, sarcastic, and comedic perspective.
Father John Misty has never been one to shy away from controversy of his sound, since stepping into the limelight of the indie-sphere with his sophomore record I Love You, Honeybear Tillman has demonstrated a unique knack for hiding his mocking perspective behind some soft and incredibly pretentious sounding falsetto. His previous effort was an unwavering mix of passion and delusion, a perfect display of personal and psychological burrowing that it perfectly leads up to his third release. Through displaying his flaws on his sleeve, Tillman proves to be the closest an indie folk musician can be to a walking paradox. suffering from depression and anxiety, while also being able to give off the feeling of complete self-absorption. Online and through social media, Tillman and his alter ego shows his complete apathy and disdain towards modern trends, creating drama and “false news” as an attempt to rile up unsuspecting, impressionable, and easily agitated online audiences. From his presence online to his presence in a song, we can assume that Father John Misty is just kidding around… I think.
Father John Misty wastes no time getting to his main point. The title track opens the album up similar to how a prologue in a non-fiction novel would, a complete summary of Tillman’s mindset:
“The comedy of man starts like this/
Our brains are way to big for our mothers’ hips/
And so nature, she divines this alternative/
We emerge half-formed and hope whoever greets on the other end
Is kind enough to fill us in/
And, babies that pretty much how it’s been ever since/
The opening verse takes a tongue and check examination at the traditions of mankind, gender roles and ideologies, and how despite recent developments arguing potential variations to this things at their core haven’t really changed since the beginning. As Tillman ends the verse on the hope of no regret, he instantly moves on to the main themes of the album; the dramatic irony of existence. Religion, greed, and one-self’s imprisonment to a set of beliefs all examined in clean yet elaborate statements. The opening track looks to prove that theres plenty more of that to come, with songs like Two Wildley Different Perspectives showing to sides of the political spectrum, and how these extreme outlooks ironically line up with Jean-Pierre Faye’s horseshoe theory. Ending with a dramatic bang, claiming we have nothing else to rely on but ourselves, Tillman creates the perfect way to introduce listeners to his perverse and comically contemptuous mind.
During the front end of the album, Father John Misty creates a more satirical approach to his themes, with songs like Total Entertainment Forever and The Ballad of the Dying man, he looks at our dependence on technology. With the second track on the album Total Entertainment shows a vision of a reality straight out of “Black Mirror”, a world so entwined with the technology we’ve created that it ultimately leads to our down fall, “plugged into our hubs/ skin and bone/ A frozen smile on every face”. With such power at everyones disposal, the world and the people on it have become redundant.
“No gods to rule us/
No drugs to soothe us/
No myths to prove stuff/
No love to confuse us/”
That’s all after Tillman’s perversive remarks with how the possibilities of this reality are now endless, to the point where Father John Misty can gleefully “Bed” Taylor Swift after dinner with his wife. The song serves as some warning to the advancements we’ve made with technology, with virtual reality becoming an affordable means to the common man, this world Tillman sings of might not be too far from our reality.
A more down to earth outlook comes from The Balled of The Dying Man, where Misty tells the story of a dying man, so narcissistic and obsessed with proving his intellect online that his final moments consist of him wishing he could check his newsfeed to see the stuff he won’t be able to provide commentary on. The song is only fitting, with social media becoming such an integral part of first world society the chance of people’s entire lives being encapsulated online makes the song feel like one of the most accurate perspectives on the album. The man in this story looks to prove his true righteousness to the unknown masses through his obsession with critiquing and calling out those he deems unworthy, pedophiles, hipsters, fake feminists, and the 1%, it appears Tillman is painting an image of someone who never grew from his young and impressionable stages. This dying man is clearly someone Tillman has had seen plenty of on twitter.
ART AND FAME
Being that it is Tillman’s profession, the man clearly has a fine grasp on the art and the industry, with the songs that tackle art and fame being those that he’s able to push below surface level with. On songs like The Memo and Leaving L.A. Father John Misty exhausts his frustrations on the philosophy of music and its audience. Leaving L.A. serves as the main anchor to the entire project. Placed at the very centre of the album and lasting for more than 13 minutes, the piece is a grand reflection in his time in Los Angeles. With over 10 verses, Father John Misty spits on those who he believes ruined the city, hyperbolic listeners, the fair-weather leaches, and how the media’s impression on an individual can change rapidly. Tillman knows he’s a journalists’ dream, with the controversy that came after just the first line in Total Entertainment and the infamous troll rants he’s made in the past, he knows and loves the fact that every line on a song could be a scandalous pull quote for an article. Overall the song gives of little optimism, changing the tone of the album from charmingly sarcastic to incredibly bleak.
The first single to come from the latest project The Memo remains thematically in sync with the cultural criticism of “Bored in the USA” and “Holy Shit”, though now Father John Misty’s piercing tongue expands its reach across the sociocultural gamut, with his focus on arts and entertainment. In Tillman’s eyes, or at least Father John Misty’s, modern culture is reaching its lowest point. Audiences can no longer distinguish between fraud and art, individuals are more interesting in the image they give off to others than what they truly feel and are willing to pay money to maintain this illusion. Falling back to themes from the earlier tracks about technology, Father John Misty sings of the narcissism that is found online, claiming that its the people that you associate with that manipulate your desire for attention.
“ And as the world is getting smaller, small things take up your time/
Narcissus would have had a field day if he could have gone online/
And friends it’s not self-love that kills you/
It’s when those who hat you are allowed/
To sell you that you’re a glorious shit/
The entire world revolves around/ “
The tracks that delve into the into sociocultural aspects of our society are those that exhaust listeners the most, with points that it seems Tillman’s preaching exhausts the listeners to a point of complete desperation.
Overall, it’s hard to say what Father John Misty’s true feeling on the matter are. From the last two songs on the album it feels as though Tillman is as big of a mess as the groups he openly mocks with him going back and in ways contradicting himself. By admitting his obsession with staying young forever, using drugs and digging holes for himself, Tillman proves that Father John Misty is not just a character he made up. His anxiety and depression become clear with songs like When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay, Smoochie, and Bigger Plastic Bag. These songs unravelling the frail and terrified man that hides behind the sarcastic armour. But can you blame him?
As a society, it feels more and more likely that we’re are burning ourselves to complete exhaustion. Father John Misty desires to take in the surroundings we’ve created for ourselves with complete truthfulness, and hopefully see the humour in it. Pure Comedy isn’t close to breaking far beneath the surface levels of our society, not that you can exactly do that 5 minutes at a time. But it also feels like that wasn’t his goal to begin with, perhaps this was his way of venting to a large crowd, maybe the biggest joke is those think too much about it.