Despite releasing the great “Real Love Baby,” last year, Father John Misty generated more headlines from his curtailed set at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival that summer. That event would be unfairly characterized as a “rant” and “lecture,” and while stiffing people on a set they paid money to see is never a good look, the mischaracterization marginalized the message behind his address. During his speech, Josh Tillman is above all horrified with the current state of things – at the time, Donald Trump had recently accepted the Republican nomination for president – even throwing his own past material under the bus:
“I soft-shoed that shit into existence by going, ‘No no no, look over here, it’ll never actually be that bad because we’re too smart.’ And while we were looking in that direction, stupidity just fucking runs the world.”
It’s impossible to listen to Father John Misty’s newest single – the first off an album due out later this year of the same name – without considering that publicized set from last July. “Pure Comedy” and its video channels the anxiety, anger, grief, despair so many feel in a United States run by Donald Trump, a man who for 70+ years has shown loyalty to only one person: himself. Tillman has always used the Father John Misty moniker to articulate his macabre sense of humor – his excellent debut Fear Fun was led by a song called “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and features Tillman singing, “we should let this dead guy sleep” as a hook – but his arrangements have only grown more lush and intricate. “Hollywood Forever” is a capital-R Rock song with a massive guitar riff, while 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear was much more dense. “Pure Comedy” takes the ethos of his 2015 album and positions it in a darker, suffocating setting. The music is still gorgeous, but the lyrics, Tillman’s delivery, and that searing climax all paint an entirely different picture. Gone is the sunny romanticism of Honeybear; an uncompromising realism takes its place. Like the best jokes, “Pure Comedy” leaves you with tears.