Pure Comedy is the result of an artist who looked at the world around them and thought, “well, it’s a bit shit, isn’t it?”. A thirteen-track journey through the “comedy of man”, and the third album from ex-Fleet Foxes member and mellow indie-folk-rocker Josh Tillman (a man who once referred to the Trump campaign as a “demonic clown pageant coronation of our next potential Idiot King” – that’s not really relevant, just thought you’d enjoy it), Pure Comedy is the kind of album you could lie back and listen to on a warm summer’s day, if your summer days involve – like mine – an ongoing existential crisis.
The eponymous opening track sets the tone for the album, charting a hypothetical life alongside the development of so-called civilisation, with spoonfuls – nay, ladlefuls – of acoustically crooned cynicism. Tillman, who quickly goes on to describe religious founders as “woman-hating epileptics”, is clearly in no mood to fuck about. Moving on to ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ (which, now I think of it – is that a subtle dig at Foals?), Father John sets his sights firmly on the entertainment industry. Ready, aim, check saxophone, fire – “not bad for a race of demented monkeys”, says Tillman. ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ is, musically, a joy to listen to, but on first listen through the album one can’t help but earmark Father John as yet another moustached hipster, deriding the state of the world around him and telling anybody who will listen about the merits of his new vegan lifestyle, all safely behind the shelter of his locally-sourced craft beer.
On first listen through the album one can’t help but earmark Father John as yet another moustached hipster
Yet self-awareness is not truly departed here: ‘Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before the Revolution’ exercises some welcome irony, and in ‘Ballad of the Dying Man’ and ‘Leaving LA’, Tillman swings heavily into introspective mode. “Oh, who will critique them once he’s left?”; Father John asks us, is my unwarranted social commentary actually worth anything? Is yours? Given that ‘Ballad of the Dying Man’ reminds me of about half my Facebook feed these days, I’d suggest it hits a mark. The thirteen minute odyssey of ‘Leaving LA’, meanwhile, returns us again to the entertainment industry, but just as the track is slower and more mournful than ‘Total Entertainment Forever’, Misty takes a more measured stance: “Oh great, that’s just what we all need/ Another white guy in 2017/ Who takes himself so goddamn seriously”. Tillman has dragged himself firmly out into the spotlight for dissection here, talking about his own experiences in the music industry and considering whether his creative output has a place in the world, or if he’s “merely a minor fascination to/ Manic virginal lust and college dudes”.
Tillman should be happy to hear, then, that Pure Comedy carries enough weight and asks enough questions to make it a worthwhile listen. That said, the album suffers from a few issues – mainly in the area of pacing, in that it doesn’t really have any. Although each track is individually enjoyable and well-produced, Pure Comedy lacks drive during its second half, and can easily drift towards the background. This is not to say there aren’t standout songs during that second half (such as ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’), merely that the listener may be starting lose focus, and blur them all into one another. Overall, Father John has a lot to say, and says it well – you may find many lyrics which hit almost too close to home – so long as the listener can separate the uncomfortable lyric content from the comfortably mellow sound.