By Jack Sharkey, October 2, 2017


Front to Back Album Review: Father John Misty - Pure Comedy

  • Released: April 7, 2017
  • Label: Bella Union / Sub Pop
  • Producers: Josh Tillman, Jonathan Wilson


4 out 5 Play Buttons

Four out of Five Play Buttons

Seattle musician Josh Tillman’s alter-ego Father John Misty is not for the faint of heart. You either love him or hate him: His lyrical and musical style is not for everyone, and he challenges us to think about things maybe we’d all really rather not think about. He may be the Bob Dylan/Warren Zevon/Frank Zappa of this generation, but at the same time he’s totally a new invention. He’s a writer and satirist but his subjects are what you might call big picture, no mere political finger-pointing and social justice warrioring for him. Pure Comedy examines such mundane subjects as birth, death, why we’re here in the first place, and how wrong we tend to get it all when we think about it. He’s kind of the perfect artist for his time – smart and self-effacing, self-indulgent and anonymous, sharp as a needle but fully aware that humor is often the only thing that gets us through.


If you’re a fan of hook verse-chorus-middle eight-verse-chorus-chorus-fade-type song structure this album will not be satisfying to you in the least. Father John Misty - Pure ComedyHooks are not what he does. The arrangements and orchestrations are lush, really well-produced and highly musical, but the music only serves as the soundtrack to Tillman’s mental wanderings. The melodies are pretty much similar, but they exist here merely as a platform to get his thoughts to you, so it's kind of okay that they're an after-thought. Think Pink Floyd without David Gilmour’s pop and rock sensibilities, but with all of his and Roger Waters’ genius. It’s an adventurous album that’s always perched on the edge of being too much but the smart and solid production saves it from being too self-indulgent and obtuse.


Until you’re familiar with it, you can’t really get everything this album promises while you’re busy doing something else (commuting, playing racquet ball, making soup, etc.) and the lack of choruses and hooks makes that a bit difficult. You won’t get familiar with this album for a while, but when you do, it’s worth it. I recently caught Father John Misty’s set at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and from the music to the staging it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a very long time, but what was most remarkable to me was the several thousand people singing along to songs that are more musings set to chords than they are songs in the traditional sense.  


It’s a beautifully recorded and mixed album, it’s just…different. If you’re looking for something new and challenging but still somewhat accessible, you’d do well to give this album a chance. But it may take a few listens before you actually get what the heck is going on, and in my humble experience, once you get it, you got it.


Listened via Spotify streaming on LS50W.