Thursday, April 6, 2017

Father John Misty - Pure Comedy Review

Father John Misty is quite an entertaining character. Never one to speak plainly through his thoughts, nor rationalize his opinions in a serious tone, the former Fleet Foxes backing member has made a career out of exploiting the true-to-form hipster stereotype. Supremely pompous, self-righteous, all-knowing, and yet irritatingly self-aware, Father John Misty has driven a stake through the fabric of Indie music by reigniting what it means to be outside of the mainstream. Instigating political firestorms, condemning the actions of lives that would not affect his, denouncing his fans for being just as arrogant as he, pontificating future issues by poking fun at the current climate, and offering no answers to all the doom and gloom he spews is just another day in Josh Tillman's life. That used to not be the case, as 2015's I Love You, Honeybear merely expressed his unusual style without bludgeoning it to death for 74 minutes. Moments were earnest, heartfelt, down-to-earth, and personable, albeit just not for me. In the two years since, Tillman's inflated ego and self-worth has risen for all the wrong reasons. On Pure Comedy, the Singer/Songwriter terminates any musical expression he once had, giving way to a haughty superiority complex the likes of which modern music has never seen.

And all this coming from someone who, by and large, agrees with everything the preacher has to preach here. There's two sides of the liberal ideology, and a third that would denounce that statement for being so black and white. But regardless, Father John Misty, and those like him, fall towards the elitist side, knowing the answers to life's perpetual problems but rather than helping solve them they choose to live above it, mocking those who live beneath. And then there's those that try to unify, form a bond between opposing sides, and come to a compromise rather than pulling further apart. Pure Comedy does not attempt to do this, and in a clever move on Tillman's behalf, wastes no time insulting those he disagrees with on the opening title track. On 'Pure Comedy,' Father John Misty surmises the general direction of humanity, ripe with mocking of religious followers. The Piano Rock that suffocates the ensuing hour or so still feels fresh here, the ideas too, as Tillman explains the reasoning behind the creation of religion and the disparity between men and women. Sure, it's a basic lesson in common sense, evolution 101, but Pure Comedy's exhaustive tendencies hasn't worn thin yet, making the introduction one of its better tracks.

And then "bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift" happens on 'Total Entertainment Forever,' and whatever hope was left for Pure Comedy vanished in a flash. You see, each song on the 14-track epic hones in a single topic Tillman finds upsetting, an amusing concept but one that quickly dissolves into a glorified, self-serving circle jerk. Not to mention, with ideas coming and going, no single encounter provides listeners with anything enlightening they hadn't heard before. 'Total Entertainment Forever' foretells of a future society in which technology has consumed us, 'Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before The Revolution' decries the missteps of a world in conflict, and 'The Memo' denounces modern artistry and ways in which gossip-hungry consumers enjoy it. They're all on-the-nose when it comes to liberal ideologies, and the constant stereotyping of those different and those similar serves no purpose other than to further isolate opposing sides. This culminates in the immensely ironic 'Two Wildly Different Perspectives,' where Father John Misty explains liberal and conservative partisanism (as if this needs explaining), believing himself, apparently, to be an unbiased referee in the middle.

While it certainly seems to be the case given the massive wealth of philosophical commentary, not every moment on Pure Comedy is composed of such material. Some songs stay afloat by making their presence not as obvious. There's no denying 'Birdie' continues to send a scornful eye towards humanity, but the way in which Father John Misty accomplishes this, by personifying a bird flying on by, is quite endearing. And while 'In Twenty Years Of So' follows his pessimism to a grinding halt, the final track at least has the courage to admit Father John Misty doesn't care about helping improve our world because he feels it's already over. I appreciate the earnest gesture, as it's not typically found so bluntly in music. Finally, there's 'So I'm Growing Old On Magic Mountain,' which is my personal favorite on Pure Comedy. Why? Well, for once, and only once, Tillman doesn't sound like an arrogant prick, singing humbly about a life-affirming experience. Along with that, it's musical engaging, paced well, structurally intact (a key given the ten minutes), and culminates in a truly climatic instrumental crescendo. It's not worth the torment of the previous 11 songs though, so take 'Magic Mountain' and run.

As you might have noticed, 'Magic Mountain' was the first time I mentioned anything related to the music. That was intended, as my disinterest towards the production in this review is about the same as Father John Misty's when creating the actual album. A sizable portion of Pure Comedy's failure can be attributed to the total lack of care when it comes to the instrumentation. Every single song is a ballad. Every one. It's as if Tillman and collaborator Jonathan Wilson expended all their resources into coming up with pseudo-intellectual one-liners that no room was left to actually create something musically engaging. Apart from 'Magic Mountain' and 'Pure Comedy's' apexes, no other moment on this 74-minute LP feels noteworthy. They're purely foundational, meant to service Tillman by not standing in his way. And considering the vibrant topical obsessions at hand, that decision seems obvious. With Tillman's irritating self-awareness on the "10 verse, chorus less diatribe" 'Leaving LA,' it's clear Pure Comedy is exactly the album Father John Misty wanted to create. Ripe with snobbish self-importance, demeaning vilification, and irony out the wazoo (I'm praying Tillman's talking about himself on 'Ballad Of A Dying Man'), Pure Comedy is a low point for Indie music, a piece of regurgitated rubbish that conservatives would use as valid evidence of liberal pretentiousness.

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