Single Review: Father John Misty’s 'Pure Comedy' is a divine anthem

NOSELL

Sub Pop Records

 

Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 4:38pm

As we enter the era of a Trump presidency, we must ask ourselves: How did we get here?

On the title track of his upcoming third record, “Pure Comedy,” Josh Tillman — the witty singer/songwriter behind indie rock moniker Father John Misty — offers an answer.

In six-and-a-half minutes of ingenious, blistering one-liners, “Pure Comedy” is Tillman at his most intensely poetic and political, revealing humanity in all its naked absurdity, with scathingly witty lyrics and mournful horn-heavy instrumentation. So far, it’s the best post-Trump song of 2017.

Tillman may be known as a satirist, but “Pure Comedy” is still not quite like his past work. Instead of incorporating his usual dry, ironic humor, Tillman infuses brutal honesty with bitter melancholy. Granted, it’s a bit preachy, but also somewhat inspired, especially coming from a smug goofball like Tillman. From beginning to end, Tillman jumps from vivid detail to vivid detail, describing the world in which we currently live with dystopian overtones. In the song’s fascinating, haphazard music video, Tillman evokes this nightmarish reality, juxtaposing crudely drawn black-and-white images with archival footage of everything wrong with modern American culture.

He denounces the narcissistic toxicity of consumerism (“They worship themselves yet they're totally obsessed”), the misguided groupthink of religion (“And how's this for irony, their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs / That they never ever have to leave”) and the unexpected rise of Donald Trump as a political figure (“Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them?”). Clips of natural disasters and forest fires also make for some harrowing, apocalyptic images, which showcase the stakes that Tillman is positing for our bleak future.

Minute by minute, “Pure Comedy” exposes the darkness of our actions and their consequences, but by forcing us to confront these troubling realities, Tillman drives his point home: There are more flaws to fix than we might think. Mankind is constantly fighting the “struggle to survive,” as Tillman remarks, and yet we find ourselves in a perpetual state of fear and confusion. The world is indeed messed up, and not without our own doing. It’s certainly not a pretty message, but with Tillman’s imaginative songwriting and broad worldview, “Pure Comedy” makes a profound statement about where we are now and where we might be headed.

So, are we actually doomed? According to Tillman, we might be. But even for someone as cynical as he is, a cautious hope still remains on the horizon. In the end, Tillman comes full circle, leaving us with the chilling final line, “I hate to say it, but each other's all we got.”