“It feels like a while since the popular domain bore fruit to the world around it. It was before my time that recording artists were regularly viewed and judged on their ability to reflect the moods that they witnessed through day to day. It is undeniable that the great artists of their times had something to say; that their personalities and voices became essence to their movements. The songs that we remember from the sixties and seventies have become attached, in a sense unified, to what we either recall or have learned about ‘what went on’. Popular music now seldom seems servant to its circumstance. Music has become in many ways the partner to distraction. Lyrically, to many, nothing could come across as more of a turn off than being reminded of the chaos of life. We work and work, and in our downtime, or in our periods of commuting, when most of us find ourselves prone to truly listening to music, we seek to forget about our everyday and the worldly happenings that forever penetrate our mood.”
With these ramblings in mind, Father John Misty’s newest studio album, ‘Pure Comedy’, is revelationary. This word may seem out of place; what he has to offer is nothing new, but in its environment, it is simply rare. Travelling under the moniker Father John Misty since 2012 and having an expansive musical career even before then, Josh Tillman’s scathing and tender roto-scopic views on living are by no means newly birthed. His previous two releases, Fear Fun (2012) and I Love you, Honeybear (2015) were riddled with a tip-of-the-tongue sharpness that addressed the hypocrisy of a media driven world. This time around, he is fiercely more refined, perhaps because now, even more is at stake. Tillman made himself the topic of talk earlier this year when, while performing live in New Jersey, he cut short his set (comprised largely of material from Pure Comedy), to scathe his audience’s ability to be entertained while the world around them was crumbling. He later went on to develop his upset via social media, stating he was simply in an uproar of the recent actions of his newly elected president. Much of this serves as the thematic drive behind Pure Comedy. Floating around in an ether of pop-cult celebrities, demons of his past, art critics, power hungry moguls and blind-clapping fans, Tillman picks up the pieces and glues them together into alarmingly on-point assemblies.
There is no reservation in comparing Tillman to the greats; his voice and piano compositions are immediately akin to the likes of Elton John and Leon Russell. His accompaniments are also as richly layered yet as subtle as the aforementioned artists (certainly in their less flamboyant moments). Lyrically, Tillman rises to the level of a titan. It is such a seldom occurrence for music of this quality to be subservient to the quality of words teased across the top of it. Tracks such as, “Birdie” and “Leaving LA” are honestly reminiscent of – dare I say it – Leonard Cohen. Tillman’s delivery can hit you with shivers and a complete twist in perspective three or four times within a minute. “Birdie” for example, holds particular poignancy within its lyrics. Challenging cliches, the song holds reference to the imagery of a bird flying free:
Are you really as free as all the great songs would have me believe?/
Let me tell you why some day, Birdie, you’re gonna envy me/
Take off, little winged creature/
It’s nothing but falling debris, strollers, and babies down here/
And you may be up in the sky but our paradigms are just as deep and just as wide
Whilst waxing lyrical comes often too easily to those who wear their influence on their sleeve, it cannot be stressed enough that this album should leave you reeling. It seems unfair to deem it a masterpiece; it could be argued that something that deals in misery and lost hope ought not to be revered. However, one can only hope that upon letting Tillman’s lyrics take their hold, you too can hold your eyes open differently as you walk through your day and perhaps find yourself prone to making a change.
Author: Joe, York Store