Father John Misty Solidifies His Place As A Folk Music Hero
Count your blessings. Father John Misty is back with his third full-length studio album in five years, Pure Comedy, featuring 13 brand new songs from the expatriated Fleet Foxes drummer, J. Tillman.
While it can be quite difficult to determine whether the contemporary folk singer/songwriter is simply blessed with some unnatural songwriting abilities, or if perhaps, his sardonic lyrics are just a reflection of his own life experiences, the Maryland native shows us why he has been labeled “one of the most intellectual songwriters of this generation.”
Pure Comedy is a poignant and progressive look at modern civilization, which vilifies populist culture and the influence it has on our everyday lives. Throughout the album, Tillman identifies with his fictional alter-ego, applying his own political, philosophical, environmental, technological and social views into his lyrics.
In a 1,800-word essay, Tillman describes the album as “the story of a species with a half-formed brain,” whose only hope for survival is relying on others like him.
“Over time, and as their brains prove to be remarkably good at inventing meaning where there is none, the species becomes the purveyor of increasingly bizarre and sophisticated ironies,” Tillman states. “These ironies are designed to help cope with the species’ loathsome vulnerability and to try and reconcile how disproportionate their imagination is to the monotony of their existence.”
His vocals are reminiscent of a young Elton John, while his lyrics have been compared to the likes of such noteworthy songwriters as Harry Nilsson, Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon. And it’s easy to see why… throughout the album, Tillman identifies with his fictional alter-ego, applying his own political, philosophical, environmental, technological and social criticisms, to paint a picture with sound.
“Imagine if you will, as the album starts, that you’re way out in space looking at the earth and, though it’s impossible to “fall” through space, you start a free fall anyway in the direction of the bright blue marble. For the next 75 minutes you plummet toward the earth, losing more and more perspective on what an abstract and impermanent place our planet is, how predictably we step on the same rakes, slip on the same banana peels over and over again through the ages, quickly becoming more and more immersed in the very messy business of being a human — the dubious privilege of being here, the elusiveness of meaning, true love and its habitual absence, random euphoria and the inexplicable misery of others, truth and its more alluring counterfeits, the sophistication of answers that don’t make any sense, the barbarism of our appetites, lucky breaks and injustice, faith and ignorance, crippling, mind-numbing boredom, and the terror of it all ending too soon. Before you know it, you’ve delicately crash-landed and ﬁnd yourself lying on your back looking up at the stars. If you’re lucky, with someone you love; even if just for a day, a year, a lifetime. Though just an hour has passed you have no recollection of what the earth looked like from the far-ﬂung reaches of space, nor how simple it all seemed a matter of minutes ago.”
Tillman started to write the album in 2015 and recorded all the basic tracking and vocals live to tape, back in March 2016, at United Studios — formerly the legendary Ocean Way Studios — in Los Angeles. It was co-produced by Tillman and long-time collaborator Jonathan Williams, and features original artwork by Ed Steed of The New Yorker.
The album opens with the eponymously titled “Pure Comedy,” an ironic six-and-a-half minute romp about how our beliefs and environment are predestined to influence the outlook of our society. Meanwhile, the second single, “Two Wildly Different Perspectives,” looks at the duality of conflicting ideologies and the similarities of both.
More self-deprecating than self-assured, Pure Comedy jokingly misleads listeners with satirical song titles, which Tillman uses to shroud the subtext of the album. For instance, his third single, “Ballad of the Dying Man,” appears to be all about aging and mortality, while on the surface, it’s more about wasted time and effort.
Tillman debuted his fourth single, “Total Entertainment Forever,” during his performance on Saturday Night Live in March.
The song also speaks to Tillman’s very vocal opinions of the entertainment industry and its influences. According to an article in Paste Magazine, Tillman went on a tirade, during his performance at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, N.J., asking crowd members, “where do you think entertainment comes from?”
“So evolution makes us half-formed when we come out, and culture fills the gap,” Tillman told the audience. “We just do our best and hope that someone’s going to tell us what’s right or wrong or whatever. But when you can find a way to make one way of being more attractive, that’s when you get entertainment.”
After taking the opportunity to express himself onstage, Tillman went on to perform his brand new 13-minute-long ballad, “Leaving L.A.,” a profoundly personal tune and a considerable cornerstone of what makes Pure Comedy, a thing of genius.
As an added surprise for fans, Tillman decided to release his third full-length studio album four days ahead of schedule, for anyone who pre-ordered a vinyl copy.
Be sure to check out Pure Comedy, the new full-length studio album from Father John Misty, available now from Bella Union and Sub Pop Records.
Originally published at salutemag.com on April 7, 2017.