Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy” is pure gold: from gospel choirs to existential trolling, FJM’s short story, film and album are well worth your time.
April 7, Father John Misty released his new album “Pure Comedy.” Singles precluded the release with early signs of the apocalyptic, sarcastic and existential themes in the album. The scope of this artwork is not limited to the music. This concept album is a total work of art, with its own film, a short story, music videos and unforgettable cover art. It’s a challenging album to interpret because the one common and consistent theme is human nature’s attempt to endow meaning on an overarchingly pointless existence.
The cover art is stark and sometimes shocking, like a demented caricature of a modern day Hieronymus Bosch piece. This iconoclastic collage is comprised of the analogies, symbols and characters in the album. Some sketches, like the bodybuilder white Jesus doing “cross-fit,” are comical while others verge on pornographic.
Another aspect of this master work is the short story. This is something of a lesson on the evolutionary psychology that has resulted in the human condition. Unfiltered, he writes, “[The species’] brains prove to be remarkably good at inventing meaning where there is none,” which is for the reconciliation of the existence’s monotony in comparison to the imagination of desires. Of the many concepts they invent, hierarchy and a Sky-Man seem to be among their favorites. The short story gets brilliantly deep with dark wit, but ultimately ends in a troll just to remind the reader that all of this, everything in existence, is just a sick joke.
The film is 25 minutes about the production of the album. The film is definitely worth watching, though I would recommend watching it after you’ve listened to the album. That is because “Pure Comedy” the album is composed of such a unique assortment of musical details, which surprise you upon first hearing each song’s musicality. The film will give away the unique assortments if you watch it first.
The film is also worth watching for interpretive reasons. There is such a density of sarcasm in FJM that a lot of his lyrics remain ambiguous. In my own experience, it wasn’t until I saw FJM perform live that I understood his lyrics better because he is so expressive with dances and little acting bits. “Pure Comedy” the film gives the impression of more sincerity during some parts than the lyrics would suggest. The film ends with footage of Earth from outer space, but instead of David Attenborough, the narration is done in a Siri voice. Siri reads part of FJM’s short story, which in this context of looking down on earth, starts to feel eerily like Alan Watts.
This album could easily stand alone, yet it is combined with all of these additional components to make it a truly great concept album. The conceptual effort is brilliant, which is evident by the lyrics of these thirteen songs. This album is by far FJM’s least listener-friendly on the larger scale, but that won’t stand true for all of his fans. If you’re looking for another “I Love You Honey Bear” or “True Affection,” then you’ll be unsatisfied. However, if you loved the dark truth of “Bored In the USA,” or deemed “Holy Shit” a top shelf anthropological history lesson or just enjoyed the sarcastic biographical nature of “Only Son of A Ladies’ Man,” then you may agree with me that FJM is reaching his amazing potential of brilliance and talent in “Pure Comedy.”
If you’re feeling ambivalent towards FJM, I suggest listening to “Leaving LA.” This song is not only the crux of the album, but also a filter for FJM fans. This biographical epic is Josh Tillman’s personal ballad about the story of his relationship with music. He explains his first childhood memory of music during a near-death experience. Now as a professional artist, self-described as “another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddamn seriously,” FJM is frustrated by the demographics of many of his fans. He describes his fan-base as a “merely minor fascination to manic virginal lust and college dudes.”
FJM gets a lot of criticism for being harsh, even yelling and trolling his owns fans, but I think a better understanding comes from verse six of “Leaving LA”:
“So why is it I’m so distraught
That what I’m selling is getting bought
At some point you just can’t control
What people use your fake name for.”
I’ve never personally seen someone with an FJM tattoo, but I would not be surprised considering the flower-crown crowd that’s been annoying him since Fleet Foxes. So what does the future hold for him and his fans – or at least those specific fans? Verse eight of the ten predicts their pending breakup:
“Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe
Plays as they all jump ship,
‘I used to like this guy
This new shit kinda makes me wanna die.’”
“Leaving LA” is such a heavy saga and will hold a different meaning to each fan. While it is without a chorus, the string quartet accompaniment and FJM’s interlude melodies should leave you riveted for all 13 minutes and then stunned for at least another 4 minutes afterwards. If not, then this diatribe fulfilled its listener-filtration purpose.
“When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay” is arguably the second best track on the album. Often, the idea of Jesus returning makes people think of how upset God will be with the state of the world. Instead, this song comes across as a real conversation between FJM and God, where FJM explains that our species has tried our hardest and God is in no place to judge us for the shit show he created. My favorite line is when FJM asks God if he really has the gall to submit humans to a judgement day:
“You must not know the first thing about human beings,
We’re the earth’s most soulful predator,
Try something less ambitious the next time you get bored.”
Have you ever asked your parents how much thought they put into your existence? I mean beyond just having a baby, did they consider the depression, existential crisis, and solipsistic human condition you might have to face one day? I thought asking my parents would be a good idea until I realized they never asked for any of this either, because no one asked to exist. That is why I love this song, because FJM went to the source. He goes to the one who got the cycle rolling, the first one of anyone to create something out of nothing, to find meaning where there is none. Ultimately, meaning-endowment is human nature, which is logical since God created human nature and either God created meaning in us from nothing or we created meaning in God.
I read a review that claimed this was the most sarcastic FJM tune yet, however, this is where the film becomes such an interesting tool for interpretation. FJM looks like he’s having a sincere conversation during this song. From the raw and pained lyrics to the gothic gospel musicality, I think FJM approached this song as if he were sharing a sincere conversation with God.
Other highlights of the album include the song “Pure Comedy”, which serves as a synopsis of the album, touching on Christian nationalism, etc. The brilliantly random music video includes everything from Trump’s inauguration to closing the image of the Blue Marble as FJM sings, “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got.”
“Total Entertainment Forever” uses a horns ensemble brilliantly to make the listener feel like they truly are a star, pulling up in limo, being washed in fame. This fame however is the self-created by addiction to mass media. I think this song should be renamed “Ode to the Masses and Mainstream.” FJM describes this bourgeois life fulfillment best as “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift.”
This album will either leave you annoyed and done with FJM or even more enthralled than ever before, though somewhat desensitized by the meaninglessness of everything, especially some self-righteous indie folk album and it’s accoutrements.