MAGNET’s #19 Album Of 2017: Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy”

Joshua Tillman grew up in a family dominated by evangelical-Christian parents who didn’t allow secular music in the home. After spending his youth playing in rock bands, he went on a hallucinogenic-mushroom binge and emerged as Father John Misty, a preacher dedicated to giving his listeners a huge dose of truth and reality. He takes another big step in that direction with Pure Comedy, an album that dissects the illusions at the heart of capitalism and the entertainment business. Tillman performs a delicate balancing act as he explores the escapism he sees at the heart of the songwriting trade. His verbose sermons have a serious nature, albeit laced through with sarcastic wit and laser-sharp irony. He delivers them against a somber melodic background broken by shards of industrial noise, dissonant keyboard fills and a keening, wordless chorus. His weary vocals intensify their desolate nature, as he wrestles with Jesus, climate change, racism, homophobia, misogyny and the meaning of life and death. There are a few bright moments. A vibrant pedal-steel guitar lifts up “Smoochie,” a celebration of the strength you can draw from a supportive lover, while “A Bigger Paper Bag” waltzes along with an almost giddy optimism. But most of these songs demand a degree of self-examination that’s rare in popular music. —j. poet