Album review: ‘Pure Comedy,’ Father John Misty

After Father John Misty performed two new songs on Saturday Night Live last month, the online commentary was split in half. Some said his lyrics and fans were pretentious. Others called him genius.

Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman’s third album as Father John Misty, is a calculated mix of both.

The album marks a dark shift in Tillman’s subject matter. While the lyrics on Fear Fun (2012) and I Love You, Honeybear (2015) discuss love, drugs, masculinity, and sexuality, “Pure Comedy” satirizes religion, technology, climate change, politics, and pop culture.

This album lacks the varied pacing of his previous two; almost all the songs on Pure Comedy are slow and moody. One exception is the third track, “Total Entertainment Forever,” an upbeat song you can tap your feet to. It’s a nice breather, and there could have been more songs in this style on the album.

But what Pure Comedy’s sound lacks in speed, it makes up in depth. The instrumentals are far more experimental than either of Tillman’s past solo albums. A minute and a half into “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” the fairly simple melody transforms into an angry swell of horned instruments, echoing vocals, and strings. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Despite these changes, Tillman’s songs still fit his Father John Misty persona like a glove. As usual, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he’s being sarcastic or genuine. But Tillman knows exactly what he’s doing – he makes that clear in “Leaving LA.”  You’ll spend the entire time wondering, “Is he trying too hard, or is he making fun of people who try too hard?” It’s satire at its finest and most frustrating.

Though slow-moving, the album’s beautiful instrumentals and clever lyrics are worth a listen. Whether you roll your eyes or get teary, Pure Comedy will make you think.

Katie Anastas

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