Since 2012, J. Tillman, otherwise known as Father John Misty, has been gradually (and effortlessly) rising in the ranks of the indie scene. Over the course of his two previous records, Misty has managed to not only act as a kind of jester to the serious and often pretentious nature of the industry, but also maintaining a high level of craftsmanship that can be just as heartfelt and sentimental. Which brings us to Tillman’s brand new third record, Pure Comedy. Frankly, if you liked the first two records, there’s not a huge deviation from that sound on Pure Comedy. Then again, there really doesn’t have to be when Tillman’s delivery is the key. The album is interesting and thought-provoking enough that Misty doesn’t necessarily have to alter his signature sound too much to resonate with listeners. This works well for the band, in particular the ways the lyrics help to put the song over where it needs to be.
The title track and album opener, “Pure Comedy”, sounds like a solemn narrative by a man who’s terrified of the future but also hopeful that the right side will come out on top. As always, his lyrics are on point – sarcastic yet sincere as anything else he’s recorded under the Misty moniker. “Two Wildly Different Perspectives” is Misty at his best, where he is able to make a political statement a personal affair. While he hits hard on issues like the Second Amendment and income inequality, the song turns into a heartbreaking number where everyone loses. Sonically, the track is filled with subtle piano and a completely spaced out vibe. The song immediately grabs the listener’s attention and never lets go.
On “Leaving LA”, Tillman slows things down further, channeling his inner Jackson Browne and taking us on a (long, 13-minute) trip through and away from the City of Angeles. This solemn tune is immensely clever, as Tillman uses Los Angeles as a microcosm of the problems that inflict American society. If “Leaving LA” is the state of the US today, “Twenty Years or So” is Tillman’s prediction for the future, which isn’t so rosy. Yet at the same time, he tells us, “There’s nothing to fear”, offering a surprising message of hope. The middle part of the song is stunning, as the strings and piano come together to create a beautiful crescendo. Meanwhile, “Smoochie” is a love song – well, in only the way Tillman can do so. It is a little ode to his love for helping him overcome his “personal demons”.
One of my main gripes with the album, though, is that I found myself recognizing certain parts of songs and thinking that maybe I’ve heard this before. The biggest example of that is track three, “Things It Would Have been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution”. The song opens with a gorgeous piano arrangement, and it then slowly segues into Tillman’s haunting and stubborn lyrics. My issue with the song comes from the similarity it has to a Grizzly Bear song called, “Sun In Your Eyes” from their Shields record. While it likely wasn’t purposeful, the piano notes on Tillman’s track sounds nearly identical to the Grizzly Bear song. I’m not saying it’s bad and makes the song somehow worse, but for hardcore music fans who may happen to know the GB song, it’s certainly takes a second to get adjusted.
Overall though, the album is quite good, and helps to further the impact that Misty has had in the recent past. As a whole, Pure Comedy succeeds much in the same way as his previous albums, but it still doesn’t quite compare to I Love You, Honeybear from a few years ago. Fact of the matter is, it’s a consistent record that’s easy to enjoy and relax too, as long as you don’t focus too much on the often depressing nature of the lyrics being tossed your way.
Pure Comedy is out now via via Bella Union and Sub Pop.
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