Josh Tillman is a series of contradictions. Less than completely comfortable releasing albums under his own name, early releases came out as J. Tillman, before he adopted the Father John Misty moniker. Having spent four years drumming for Fleet Foxes, he now seems more comfortable standing in the spotlight. Yet having never been Josh Tillman on stage, it would seem he may be hiding in plain sight. The release of Pure Comedy seems destined to change all that.
This seems to be Tillman at his most naked and revealing, yet there’s always a bit of him giving a quick wink that things might not be exactly like they seem. After all, ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ does begin with Tillman “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift.” So one is never quite sure where Father John Misty ends and where Josh Tillman begins.
History reveals Tillman learned drums at an early age and began studying guitar at twelve. Raised by strict, religious parents who had to be convinced to allow him to listen to recorded music, the little available to him had a spiritual theme, Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Running being one allowable disc. The strict upbringing comes into play on Pure Comedy, just not necessarily in the ways one might expect. Religion is approached at arm’s length, ‘Oh their religions are the best/they worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed/with risen zombies, celestial virgins magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits’.
Not everything is bleak though. One of the great moments on the epic ‘Leaving LA’ is when Tillman offers, ‘at some point you just can’t control/ what people use your fake name for’. Throughout this disc are incredible moments of beauty thanks to the co-production of Jonathan Wilson. He and Tillman are indebted to Gavin Bryars for the horn arrangement at the heart of Pure Comedy. Strings by Paul Jacob Cartwright also keep things moving, even when songs hit Dylanesque lengths.
A disc that is 75-minutes long is not the easy to digest all in one sitting, especially with lyrics that demand one’s full attention. Yet this disc burrows under your skin and simply won’t let go. Again and again it demands repeated listening. And when the spell is cast as strongly as it is on Pure Comedy there’s no denying the magic Father John Misty has at his disposal.
Words: Bob Fish