Listening to the music of Father John Misty (a.k.a. Josh Tillman) can feel like facing two mirrors toward one another; the lyrics and music ricochet off of one another and create an endlessly recursive series of reflections. On his third album, Pure Comedy, Tillman takes that propensity to create cognitive dissonance to new levels.
This is clearest on the Saturday Night Live-debuted “Total Entertainment Forever.” Opening with the lines “Bedding Taylor Swift / Every night inside the Oculus Rift,” the song is a vision of a dystopian near future. Tillman, in a lengthy press biography, described this dystopia. “[People] set about to entertain themselves into an oblivion with politics, sex, ﬁnance, philosophy, and other games of war. This they do until they are so numb…that they are blissfully incapable of noticing they’re all dead.”
The irony here is that the song itself, musically, is a gorgeous, catchy, ’70s-influenced, piece of entertainment. Tillman is keenly aware of this contradiction, and he addresses it later on the record in “Leaving LA”. Pure Comedy‘s centerpiece track, “Leaving LA,” focuses almost solely on the “[c]losing [of the] the gap between the mask and me.” It’s wryly self-deprecating track in which Tillman considers his career as Father John Misty and his rising fame: “Still I dreamt of garnering all rave reviews /Just believably a little north of God’s own truth / ‘He’s a national treasure now, and here’s the proof / In the form of his major label debut.'”
Pure Comedy finds Josh Tillman, as Father John Misty, using the contradictions between the Elton John-esque soundscape and the archness of his lyrics to take on the just about the entire world, and he does it exceedingly well.