With Kanye West presently on hiatus and Noel Gallagher stranded between solo albums and Oasis-related anniversaries, the new reigning champ of the press junket is none other than Josh Tillman. Every interview that Tillman has conducted to promote Pure Comedy, his third album as Father John Misty, has been essential reading for fans and haters alike. Baiting reactionary music critics — whom he regards with open, oft-hilarious disdain — at every turn, Tillman has sounded off on the soullessness of the pop-music industry and the provocative, somewhat jokey nature of his own semi-celebrity with endlessly quotable élan.
But now that Pure Comedy is set to finally arrive on Friday, I’m sorry to report that the bread-and-circuses show is about to end. Reports that Tillman is merely an irony-addled prankster are gravely mistaken. No matter the title, the laughs on Pure Comedy are strictly of the bitter, whistling-past-the-graveyard variety. Tillman’s album is a fire-and-brimstone sermon — a scathing, even caustic, indictment of an engorged culture that has feasted on the empty calories of facile entertainment, baseless outrage, and spiritually bankrupt establishment religion to the point of imminent collapse.
There are also moments of beauty, when Tillman’s dulcet tenor swells against simple piano chords buoyed by atmospheric orchestrations in a manner that’s frequently breathtaking. The result is a singular, frankly staggering statement that I can only liken to Sly Stone’s landmark protest record There’s A Riot Goin’ as performed by John Denver.