It’s hard to know how to start writing about the music of Josh Tillman. Often, and especially on his latest work, his music often carries a sense of the ultimate pointlessness of writing about music. He’s expertly self-referential; his songs are sometimes about other people writing about the author writing about other people writing about his music and you start to question your own hold on reality.
Josh’s grip on reality may be questionable too, but that he is a formidable visionary that history will look back on with reverence, this is in no doubt.
As I hope I demonstrated in my opening paragraph, you can easily end up disappearing down a think-piece rabbit-shit-hole when you try to write about ‘Pure Comedy’, but the reason I bother now is that I love this record! It makes me sing, smile, wiggle! It doesn’t suffer from any of the deliberately throwaway frivolity that made ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ half excellent (‘Holy Shit’, ‘Bored In The USA’), half treading water in the deep-treacle end of it’s own self-awareness (‘True Affection’). Instead, ‘Pure Comedy’ is thirteen tracks, an hour and a quarter long of beautifully weird indie rock that delivers on the promise shown by the shining highs of his previous release. I love it, honeybear.
Before you start, have a little listen to ‘Vacilando Territory Blues’ – one of his seven solo albums. It’s a wonderful, understated, tender masterpiece. Ultimately, Josh is a spectacularly talented musician/guitarist with a gorgeous voice & a beautiful sense of melody. Sometimes, it’s hard to see underneath his posturing to that, but queue up any of his seven solo albums and that should be obvious to any Townes Van Zandt fan. So, start there. Here’s a track from it. This is from a while ago:
Then, he made ‘Fear Fun’. A real headscratcher for me at the time, something was happening, but I wasn’t sure what it was, was I, Mr Tillman? Fear Fun does have some great moments, like ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’.
Then came “I Love You, Honeybear”. Here’s ‘Holy Shit’, my favourite track from that record, a scathing torrent of disdain and satire on top of satire on top of post-satire, but with a marvellous sense of defiance that really connected with the narcissist in me:
“Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity
But what I fail to see is what that’s got to do with you and me…”
“Age-old gender roles
Golden bows and mercury
Bohemian nightmare, dust bowl chic
This documentary’s lost on me
Satirical news, free energy
Mobile lifestyle, loveless sex
Not a wasted syllable and not a dull second. This tune is genius.
And so, to the point of all this. ‘Pure Comedy’ is a hefty work, it has such ambition and confidence, huge brass balls that it wears on it’s white hemp sleeves, what a disgusting analogy, I’m sorry, but ‘Pure Comedy’ is not simply ambitious.
It’s also funny, there are lyrical moments so out there you will LOL – it’s knowing, it’s self-referential, dry, full of scathing takedowns of modern life, but ‘Pure Comedy’ is not simply funny.
It’s also prodigious, musically – something that often irritates me – olympic guitar playing, turning music into a speed or technique competition. This record has musicianship in spades, but ‘Pure Comedy’ is not simply accomplished.
It’s also precise and sprawling in a calculated but organic way, like Josh is a plant-based intelligent life form based on Mars, looking down on humanity and taking the piss out of it. Right, see, I said I’d disappear down a rabbit-hole and I think I have! You could too, if you give it a chance!
It’s pretentious. It’s flamboyant. It sometimes seems ridiculous – case in point – check out the video for ‘Total Entertainment Forever’, note the opening line which could be no more 2017 if it tried:
“Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift…”
I could describe the video here, but you know, you wouldn’t believe me if I did. Just watch it, then come back to me.
Father John Misty playing live is an odd, confusing and often thrilling experience, much like the record, and that video – if you’re in on the joke then it’s funny. If you’re not, then it might not be. Maybe it seems annoying, then you’ll realise you’re just not in on the joke. Or not, and it’s fine, there is no spoon. His preening, kneeling, head-back screams and yelps are more entertaining than that last faux avant garde bullshit you saw – at least here you can sing along or dance, c’mon, lighten up! Or don’t; I don’t think he cares. He just said in his (excellent) New Yorker interview:
“I wanted to be authentically bogus rather than bogusly authentic.”
Which is hilarious! Meaningless! But a great headline! He’s a funny guy and a great writer. Read that New Yorker piece and you’ll have thousands of words around context and personality that I’m not sure I give a rats arse about but more importantly to me, he made some records, and they’re wonderful. ‘Pure Comedy’ is ‘OK Computer’, unhinged, unshackled imagination, set loose & telling you more about now than any other piece of music. You choose whether or not it’s important to you to take music in context. Like Josh says, he read somewhere that in twenty years, this human experiment will reach it’s final end.
Which is kind of fine with me; I hope the dead come back to life and start feeding on the living – we’ll have no time to listen to Misty’s beautiful music, but that’ll be the worst part.