PURE COMEDY by Father John Misty
Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Chamber Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Pure Comedy,” “Total Entertainment Forever,” “Things That Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution,” “When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” “Smoochie,” “So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain”
With each passing day, the world slips further and further into absurdity. Humans continue to inundate themselves with technology and entertainment as a cartoonishly nefarious American government attempts to fashion its nation into a primordial dystopia. The current administration’s commitment to ancient and Biblical ideals has seen a nation regress into extreme division in the name of capitalism and Jesus Christ. When keeping in mind that former reality TV Show host Donald Trump is behind it all . . . well . . . let’s just say that the theory that we’ve become trapped in some bizarre alternate universe only seems to be more of a likelihood. Luckily, Father John Misty has been predicting doomsday since Trump’s RNC coronation back in Summer of 2016, when he lectured festival goers about our “hilarious tyrant” for upwards of 10 minutes during sets. And although the man proclaims himself a “folk rock provocateur and ironic trickster,” Father John Misty’s most recent LP, “Pure Comedy,” suggests that the joke has gone too far.
“Pure Comedy is 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. This reliance takes on a few different names as their story unfolds, like ‘love,’ ‘culture,’ ‘family,’ etc. Over time, and as their brains prove to be remarkably good at inventing meaning where there is none, the species becomes the purveyor of increasingly bizarre and sophisticated ironies. These ironies are designed to help cope with the species’ loathsome vulnerability and to try and reconcile how disproportionate their imagination is to the monotony of their existence.” -Josh Tilman
An ambitious overarching thesis, surely, but genius never came from anyone playing it safe. The title track and opener, “Pure Comedy,” is a slow-burning ballad in which Misty details “the comedy of man.” In typical Father John Misty fashion, he adopts a misanthropic tone, explaining that, “Our brains are way too big for our mother’s hips,” and that, “We emerged half-formed and hope whoever is on the other side is kind enough to fill us in.” Despite the weight those lyrics hold on their own, the bare piano instrumentation only calls further attention to them, as if to allow nothing to distract from the narrative at hand. After successfully roasting the inherent biological limitations of mankind, and how that in turn shaped modern gender roles, Father John Misty can only take a step back and remark, “Now that’s what I call pure comedy” as the chorus rolls in with swinging jazz drums. The song is so lyrically packed that it’s difficult to resist simply regurgitating every single worthwhile line, but unfortunately, that would be most—if not all—of them.
However, this track does fall victim to one of the biggest turnoffs some of the songs on this album have: it’s too long. Non-sequitur verses begin to pile up after one another, until the weight of each line diminishes and the only thing that varies becomes the lyrics. While certainly bearable in some instances, other tracks such as “Leaving LA” feel like Father John simply refused to reject any of his lyrical ideas. He instead opts to record them all in a row, in what he even self-references as a “10-verse chorus-less diatribe” on the very track. However, while self-indulgent and somewhat frustrating at first, only upon revisiting the track did I get anything out of the structure. There is a required patience for the track, and it seems to hold true for most of the album. PURE COMEDY is not an album full of radio-ready singles, but instead an agonizing over contemplation of life itself, in which the prose, piano chords, and acoustic guitars carry most songs at a pace that never reaches a sprint.
However, there are exceptions to this format, such as the upbeat single “Total Entertainment Forever.” Despite initially failing to appreciate the track, lyrics like, “It’s like the images have all become real and someone’s living my life for me out in the mirror” are what have kept me returning to it time and time again. Providing a clairvoyant look into a new age where everyone is entertained, this song boasts more swinging big band instrumentation and Father John Misty’s strumming as a percussive backbone for the entire ensemble.
This album could easily shave off some extra skin and be more succinct and accessible, but the way that it doesn’t serves to be somewhat of a statement in itself. Many of the songs fail to pop out with the same energy as I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR or FEAR FUN, but the social context for those albums no longer exists. 2017 is the year in which PURE COMEDY had to be released in order to be relevant, as it marks of one of the most pivotal periods in recent American history. Although Father John Misty requires listeners to be attentive in order to fully appreciate the intricacies of some seemingly barren tracks, the payoff of devoting an hour to doing so pays off with a rich and relevant reminder that poor leaders make for great art.