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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Father John Misty releases dark, prosaic album, ‘Pure Comedy’

Indie music’s favorite disgruntled hipster has returned with a fresh gospel on what we’ve screwed up since last time. Yes, Josh Tilman, pseudonym Father John Misty, is back to inspire drug-fueled pilgrimages and weed paranoia with his new album, Pure Comedy.

The former Fleet Foxes drummer had released singles leading up to his third record. Most notably, the track “Total Entertainment Forever,” one of the singles that was out ahead of the album, leads off with the lyrics “Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the oculus rift.” Naturally this did wonders for media attention to the album.

In his third solo act, Father John Misty has moved from playground satire to full-blown melancholy manifesto. Where his first album, Fear Fun, focused on the creation of his pseudonym and I Love You, Honeybear focused on finding love, Pure Comedy from its first track launches directly into cutting satire about the human condition.

And it’s beautiful. Well, it’s beautiful if you can sink into it. This album is not for everyone–it’s not even for all Father John Misty fans. Where past works have mixed macabre images and dark lyrics with upbeat and up-tempo music style, Pure Comedy is a collection of long ballads lamenting the state in which we have voluntarily sunk.

For those looking to smile and snap their fingers while feeling that all is right in the world, look elsewhere. For those looking to have a late-night walk contemplating the larger questions in life and possibly suffering several enlightening paranoic attacks, this is the album for you.

Joking aside, while Honeybear flowed more like a traditional and rhythmically cohesive piece, Misty has never been as lyrically sharp as he is on Pure Comedy. Misty begins the album in a familiar fashion, his voice declaring the irony of existence over a cheery backbeat in the album’s title track, “Pure Comedy.” A strong lead in through “Total Entertainment forever” is followed by “Ballad of the Dying Man,” then slowing down with “Birdie.”

If this album were a book, the A side would be the preface—the hook as it were. Misty builds up until the lyrical fireworks of “Leaving LA,” a 13 minute and 13 second proclamation from the darker folds of Misty’s brain. He ranges from declaring his philosophical struggles with being a white-cis male in today’s society and trying to still be socially conscious, to discussing his own disgust with the system he is using to become famous: “So why is it that I’m so distraught/That what I’m selling is getting bought/At some point you just can’t control/What people use your fake name for.”

Where the album lacks are in the tracks “Smoochie” and “Two Wildly Different Perspectives.” Here Misty’s satire sounds more like a sermon, losing its wit and being dragged down by the principle and rhetoric that sounds more like bathroom-stall gospel than anything else. “The Memo” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” round out the performance with amazingly crafted lyrics, before slinking off on a lukewarm note with “In Twenty Years or So.”

I didn’t like this album at first. Then I liked it a little bit and then I loved it. Yes, it’s preachy and paranoid and occasionally moronic, but it’s a work of art. In addition to the album itself, a 25 minute video and essay accompanies it, furthering Misty’s philosophy. Music lately has moved away from the poetry which it derives in popular culture. So no, you won’t be hearing any tracks from Pure Comedy at the club, but the poetry and the cutting clarity of the prose makes this album something special that shouldn’t be missed.

Grade: A-

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