Yesterday, Father John Misty shared a new jeremiad called “Pure Comedy”. As expected, the new song is from Josh Tillman’s follow-up to 2015’s I Love You Honeybear. (A high mark of 2015, good enough for No. 8 on our year-end list.) Tillman’s new album, also called Pure Comedy, is out April 7 on Sub Pop. The 13-track, 75-minute-long album was co-produced by Jonathan Wilson and TIllman himself and features horn, string, and choral arrangements and contributions from Gavin Bryars, Nico Muhly, and Thomas Bartlett. The striking, elaborate album art was illustrated by New Yorker artist Ed Steed in four variants.
Check out the album art and tracklist below.
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy:
01 Pure Comedy
02 Total Entertainment Forever
03 Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
04 Ballad of the Dying Man
06 Leaving LA
07 A Bigger Paper Bag
08 When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay
10 Two Wildly Different Perspectives
11 The Memo
12 So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain
13 In Twenty Years of So
Father John Misty has also shared a 25-minute short film called Pure Comedy: The Film, which features a day in the life of Tillman, including some new music and some shirtless painting. Watch below.
If that’s not enough for you. Here are nearly 2,000 words from Josh Tillman explaining the inspiration behind Pure Comedy. It starts with Ecclesiastes. It ends with “Bears, man.”
Read it below.
“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new?’
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.”
Pure Comedy is the story of a species born with a half-formed brain. The species’ only hope for survival, ﬁnding itself on a cruel, unpredictable rock surrounded by other species who seem far more adept at this whole thing (and to whom they are delicious), is the reliance on other, slightly older, half-formed brains. This reliance takes on a few different names as their story unfolds, like “love,” “culture,” “family,” etc. Over time, and as their brains prove to be remarkably good at inventing meaning where there is none, the species becomes the purveyor of increasingly bizarre and sophisticated ironies. These ironies are designed to help cope with the species’ loathsome vulnerability and to try and reconcile how disproportionate their imagination is to the monotony of their existence.
Now all of a sudden they expect light in the dark, warmth in the cold, and to make something out of nothing. Cooperation among the species to achieve these goals eventually yields a worldview wherein some among the species believe that there are individuals for whom this type of work is maybe ill-suited. The contribution of the ill-suited is of a more abstract, inspirational nature. The ill-suited begin to make subtle distinctions among themselves that extend beyond “eaten by a bear/not eaten by a bear”. These distinctions involve do-it-ness, cool-face-and-body-ness, craftiness, etc. – an arrangement emerges where these traits can be traded in for better-than-ness. This better-than-ness really starts to run rampant, and the species begins to wonder if there isn’t a Sky-Man in the sky who is perhaps the source of all better-than-ness. It seems like a pretty good explanation for why the species is so important.
Sky-Man pretty much runs the show for a really, really long time, and his inner-circle of better-thans gets increasingly smaller and smaller, even though by the end of his reign everyone in the species considers themselves one. Unfortunately there are some better-thans who get together and decide that one way of better-than-ness is better than other betters-thans’ better-than-ness and teach their little half-formed-brain babies as much (most who interpret this distinction as “me’s” vs. “not-me’s”). “Not-me’s” eventually come to encapsulate everyone that is not a single “me” at any given time, and this paves the way for incredibly distasteful behavior until the species arrives at a place of such alienation and fear there is really nothing so horrible that one of them wouldn’t do to the other. To deal with this less than ideal state of affairs, which seems suspiciously incompatible with how progressive and evolved they are by this point, they 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, and the idea of any “not-me” so untenable, that they are blissfully incapable of noticing they’re all dead. This happens more or less on an inﬁnite loop until the end of time.
Something like that.
Imagine if you will, as the album starts, that you’re way out in space looking at the earth and, though it’s impossible to “fall” through space, you start a free fall anyway in the direction of the bright blue marble. For the next 75 minutes you plummet toward the earth, losing more and more perspective on what an abstract and impermanent place our planet is, how predictably we step on the same rakes, slip on the same banana peels over and over again through the ages, quickly becoming more and more immersed in the very messy business of being a human – the dubious privilege of being here, the elusiveness of meaning, true love and its habitual absence, random euphoria and the inexplicable misery of others, truth and its more alluring counterfeits, the sophistication of answers that don’t make any sense, the barbarism of our appetites, lucky breaks and injustice, faith and ignorance, crippling, mind-numbing boredom, and the terror of it all ending too soon. Before you know it, you’ve delicately crash-landed and ﬁnd yourself lying on your back looking up at the stars. If you’re lucky, with someone you love; even if just for a day, a year, a lifetime. Though just an hour has passed you have no recollection of what the earth looked like from the far-ﬂung reaches of space, nor how simple it all seemed a matter of minutes ago.
I know everyone doesn’t feel the same about what’s going on right now. What for some is clearly garden-variety violent white nationalism serving as a catch-all for any number of paranoia-induced anti-fantasies foisted upon the poor and uneducated precisely by the ideologues bent on manufacturing voters who can be manipulated into voting against their own interests by making good and sure they remain poor and uneducated before cravenly blaming their problems largely on people bearing distinctions like race, gender, and sexuality so people forget everything that’s good about the American experiment, is to others an opportunity to wrench the country back from the inﬂuence of hypocritical corporate tyrants bent on enslaving our minds with spineless liberal rhetoric in order to justify wiping out the jobs of decent people so they can fulﬁll their fey utopian dream of an impossible global community designed to proﬁt only its architects (probably Banking Consortiums, pedophile rings, and deﬁnitely The Illuminati).
This album does not espouse either of those views.
Both of those views take for granted a certain degree of sophistication, or at least a knack for cooperation, that I’m absolutely convinced humans do not possess; not to mention some kind of innate logic to the proceedings here on Earth – which make a much better case for being some kind of demented joke than anything else.
The terrifying reality concerning the dilemma above is everything is chaos and no one is really in control of anyone or anything.
But what about the well-documented history of humans making life a living hell for other humans since time began?
There is no intellectual, political, or spiritual explanation that will ever satisfy anyone for longer than a moment, least of all this, the only explanation with any dignity. The explanation that appeases both our instincts for compassion and liberation. The explanation that we can either accept and move forward together or keep screaming to our respective heavens, “Why, God, why?”
Things are the way they are because this is how we, the human race, want them.
This is how we want it.
Hold the motherfucking phone. Josh Tillman, you have said and done some stupid fucking things since we’ve known you, but this is too much.
Now the liberals and the conservatives are both outraged because that is a sentiment that is so profoundly insensitive to the ways in which the other side is clearly wrong in objective ways regarding basic decency, but what’s the alternative? We’re either all complicit in this purest comedy, or the people who aren’t to blame are at war with the people who are to blame until everyone is dead. Simple as that.
Is progress possible? What does it look like? The conversion of everyone to our respective beliefs? Well, we’ve seen how that typically goes. The destruction of everyone who fails to conform? That’s not it. The erection of institutions with the power and infrastructure to enforce a rule of law with the good of as many as possible at heart? Not much evidence for that panning out.
What I recommend is this: we return to the Vedic cycle and submit ourselves to the likelihood that many of us will end up getting eaten by bears. It’s only natural. What if instead of imbuing our expectations for the quality of our lives to include perpetual happiness, dream fulﬁllment, excessive painlessness, existential certitude, material wealth, and all variety of romantic stimulation, we were just grateful for every day that didn’t involve getting eaten by a bear? What if progress only meant literally progressing from one day to the next without getting violently dismembered by a 9-foot tall, 500-pound grizzly?
The irony here of course is that many more humans than we’d like to think, most of whom are not reading the interminable liner notes to a folk rock album, do live in daily, perpetual fear of getting killed by a mammal far more terrifying than a bear, and I think you know the one to which I refer. This form of mammal attack is made all the more nightmarish by virtue of the fact that the mammal in question kills purely ideologically. Bears kill because they’re hungry; they’re very reasonable in that way. So maybe we should submit ourselves to their authority. Bears we can trust.
Bottom line is that as long as we expect to live in such a way – immune to the natural laws of this godless rock that govern everything else here – human existence will continue to be a cruel joke. I fear, however, that it is too late for us to go back into the natural order. We have no desire to return to our primal scene. We like the way things are. We’ve got sandwiches when we’re hungry! Airplanes for when we want to go somewhere! Social media when we want our voices to be heard by all God’s creation! We know that these magical conveniences come at a staggering price, and that excess for the few is based on the scarcity of the many, but that’s why we invented the business of globalization! We’ve already built the wall! It’s a great, great wall that goes up to the heavens and is as transparent as museum glass. It’s a beautiful wall that winds surgically through nations, cities, neighborhoods, and sometimes even homes. It is a globe within a globe, and those who live within its interior are as clueless as to what’s happening on the other side as we are to what’s happening right now on the far side of Mars.
There’s only one creature that can penetrate that wall, friends, and it is bears. Bears can smash through that glass like a pitcher of sugar water through a brick wall. The equalizing revolution of bear justice is coming too. Sooner than you think. As it gets hotter and hotter, they’re coming. They’re coming into our neighborhoods, they’re coming into our schools, into our churches, into our banks, into our places of business, into our governments, into our beds.
The joke is that the best we can do is keep on keeping on, which we’ve proven ourselves pathologically adept at. We’re going to save the planet alright, and it will be a glorious sacriﬁce just like the Sky-Man we invented showed us how.