Alibi V.26 No.15 • April 13-19, 2017 

Sonic Weirdo

Getting Absurd with Father John

Misty’s new album invokes pure comedy

Father John Misty
Father John Misty
Courtesy of the artist, via Facebook
On 2015’s album I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty spit some real wit at us with the track “Bored in the USA.” The track itself stands out on the album as a moment of clarity for Father John—known to friends and family as Josh Tillman—who steps away from the personal recollections of dreams and romantic emotions that comprise the rest of the record.

“Bored in the USA” pores over the comedy of adult, middle class life. The narrator’s expectations of adulthood are not being met, a problem that is examined through the observation of mundane injustices such as student loan repayment and pharmaceutical-induced erectile disfunction. Father John Misty calls out for President White Jesus to save him from himself—perhaps with some sort of distraction or entertainment. Maybe a music record would do nicely.

In April 2017 the bored American consumers—meaning you and me—have yet another Father John Misty album to access. This time around we're led into new territory by an accompanying video for the album's titular single, called “Pure Comedy.” The video is lengthy and has a desperate tone; it's generally about the comedy of existence and features notebook doodles of human cruelty, paired with stock footage that hints at the death of the American dream. Memorably, at one point in the proceedings, American wrestler and human goodwill machine John Cena surrenders his “never give up” ideology with the flippant toss of a sweatband, left smelly and alone in the center of the ring.

As the father of folk rock Bob Dylan himself once declared, “The times they are a changin,’” but Misty takes a broader view of the subject and suggests that perhaps they’re not changing at all, at least in any meaningful way. On Pure Comedy a wealth of nihilistic and absurdist notions come to a musical head. One day all of this will be the distant past and what we leave behind on this godless blue marble in space doesn’t much matter, the record consistently suggests in an echoing sentiment that floats through each tune.

If that sounds like a bit of a downer, well that’s all a matter of perspective. Personally, I’m a bit humbled and comforted by the notion that our lives are meaningless pursuits of entertainment, but not everyone likes being made to feel small.

To those listeners I urge you to zone out a bit while partaking in Misty's admonitions. Don’t take it too seriously: Have a drink, and enjoy the cool hour-plus of Misty’s honeyed vocals, layered over a careful soundtrack of acoustic guitar and carefully arranged jazz horns. Pure Comedy is not crushingly pessimistic in its musical composition, and that is a mercy without the feeling and telling of it becoming a compromise.

Pure Comedy stands as a work composed as a whole; it’s a single narrative with threads connecting every track on the album. That notion is summarized on all 13 tracks, and overall, the work asks questions like “Isn’t it funny how fucked up this all is?,” “Isn’t it great how none of this matters to anyone but yourself?,” “Don’t you feel small?,” “Are you happy?” and “Does it matter if you are?”

One of the quiet moments on this record—a track titled “Leaving LA”—studies the human condition as a string section swells up behind the sentiment and steers the listener where Misty needs them to go. Beautiful moments like this are scattered throughout the record and keep the project from ever feeling terribly preachy. The instrumentals are mixed with just as much care as Misty’s often-subtle vocals, and it makes for a powerful experience.

At the end of the day, Pure Comedy might sound a little samey. It’s a long 75 minutes, but time well spent on the philosophical ramblings of the self-proclaimed oldest man in folk rock. Students of Kierkegaard and Camus will find just as much to enjoy as students of Nash and Young as they fall into Father John Misty’s rabbit hole of human suffering and think to themselves: Fuck man, fuck the measure of all things.

But what would I know? Halfway into my second play through of the album, I stopped the record so I could go get stoned and watch Sausage Party on Netflix; which, in a way, perfectly encapsulates what this whole project has been about. After all, as Misty says on “Ballad of the Dying Man,” “We leave as clueless as we came.” I at least plan on leaving entertained, never bored, in the USA.

Father John Misty: Pure Comedy