The Upshot: Josh Tillman returns, all his idiosyncrasies intact.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Ever since he launched his career five years and three albums ago, Father John Misty, A.K.A. Josh Tillman, has remained an idiosyncratic character, one capable of producing breathtaking melodies with a clever tack that aims high but still stays well within reach of his listeners. He’s wowed the critics of course, sometimes simply because his overreach reflects ideals that are overly ambitious by the usual pop standard. You either get his abstract ideals or not, but even if not, it doesn’t detract from enjoyment overall.
With Pure Comedy, the good Father may have outdone himself in terms of sheer profundity. The songs stay on the quieter side — grand and overarched, but basically devoid of anything more resounding than the sounds guitars and keyboards are capable of delivering. The titles are telling — “Things It Would Have Been Good To Know Before the Revolution,” “Total Entertainment Forever,” “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” et. al. — but they ultimately add a certain ambiguity to a theme that isn’t all that clear to begin with. It is, to quote the liner notes, “the story of a species born with a half-formed brain. The species’ only hope for survival, ﬁnding itself on a cruel, unpredictable rock surrounded by other species who seem far more adept at this whole thing (and to whom they are delicious), is the reliance on other, slightly older, half-formed brains.”
Hmm. Tillman’s enigmatic image isn’t helped by such sheer profundity and/or bizarre conceits, but within this otherwise abstract concept, he also attempts to draw lessons on such noble topics as humanity, technology, fame, the environment, politics, ageing, social media, human nature, and ultimately, human connection. Or at least that’s what the press materials tell us. The inclusion of song lyrics and a lengthy discourse included in the album’s elaborate packaging give opportunity to decipher the meaning and analyze the subject matter accordingly. Or, to simply forget about any deeper discourse and simply enjoy the music in all its eccentricity. In the end, Pure Comedy isn’t anything close to the laugh fest the title implies, but it does provoke a deeper reaction regardless.
DOWNLOAD: “Things It Would Have Been Good To Know Before the Revolution,” “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” “Total Entertainment Forever”