Father John Misty
Rising zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks and unbelievable outfits all share something in common: They’re present in “Pure Comedy,” the title track on the latest album from arrogant folk-rock overlord Father John Misty.
FJM, alternatively known as Joshua Tillman, gracefully dives into a reservoir of angst, frustration and despair — don’t worry, that’s hip now — on his latest album, released April 7 by Sub Pop. Tillman creates a palpable collection of tracks that mock societal norms. He desperately wants it to work — his vocals are as honest and gut-wrenching as ever — but when his pompous attitude shines a tad too bright in his tracks, the glare burns listeners’ eyes, and they run into a wall of ignorance.
If Tillman got off his high horse, the album would be strong. Tillman’s tender vocals and soft instrumentation are reminiscent of dozing off in the summertime. His vocals are sultry; his songs are smooth and revealing. As on his 2015 album “I Love You, Honeybear,” he pours his satirical and emotional opinion into his tracks. But don’t anticipate lovey-dovey songs from the bearded artist this time — Tillman’s romantic vibes are gone, replaced with a mopey, whiny atmosphere that criticizes the organic mistakes of humans. Woe is Tillman — the wealthy hipster who deserved a warning of how terrible people are before he came to earth.
And something needs to be said for a musician who looks for any excuse to complain.
He rebukes God with lyrics right off the bat. In “When the God of Love Returns There’ll be Hell to Pay,” he sings, “Try something less ambitious next time you get bored,” and in “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” he cries, “’Cause there’s no place for human existence like right here
On this bright blue marble orbited by trash.” Tillman arrogantly implies that he could have done better: The contemptible cockiness in his tone is unbearable. Someone needs to stop Tillman in his tracks and let him know that not everything he says is gospel.
But “The Memo” is a powerful track on its own. Consistent piano keys and the use of computerized voices between Tillman’s vocals are eye-opening. He smashes the fourth wall and sings, “Do you usually listen to music like this?/ Can we recommend some similar artists?/ Are you feeling depressed?/ But your feedback’s important to us,” emphasizing the ever-desperate manipulation of the music industry.
Other songs are slow and muddled together without cohesion. “A Bigger Paper Bag” integrates a jazzy keyboard but sounds similar to FJM’s other work. The 10 minute–long “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” is repetitive. The buzzy guitar strums are headache-inducing. Listeners are unable to recognize Tillman’s sarcasm as he sings about wanting to be stuck in perpetual adolescence. “These days, the years thin ‘til I can’t remember/ Just what it feels like to be young forever.” Cut the meta nonsense because it isn’t working.
Perhaps the album was entirely satire — but it’s not conveyed well, and Tillman just comes off as a jerk. “Pure Comedy,” however, couldn’t have a better title: This album is a joke coated in Tillman’s ignorance and lack of self-reflection.