Father John Misty | Pure Comedy (Sub Pop) | Rated: 9.5
On paper, an album which features a thirteen-minute ten-verse track with no chorus and has a runtime of over an hour and a quarter shouldn’t work. However, former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman, recording under the name Father John Misty, appears to have found a way to deliver the unexpected. Pure Comedy is one of the albums of the year so far.
His third album follows I Love You, Honeybear, a record occupied with Tillman’s marriage and his own psyche. On Pure Comedy, he tackles capitalism, decries humanity as a “race of demented monkeys”, and manages to do this while throwing in “na-na-na-na-nahs”. The record can be utterly stinging in its rebukes, for example, about religion in the opening track, “Pure Comedy”:
“Oh, their religions are the best
They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed
With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits
And they get terribly upset
When you question their sacred texts
Written by woman-hating epileptics”
Don’t be put off – it is songwriting of the highest order, with orchestration to match. Gavin Bryars, the English composer, elevates this album above simple protest or folk music traditions. The working relationship itself is interesting, as Tillman trusted Bryars in an extraordinary way with very little control over his composition. 70s style strings of the type heard on Scott Walker or John Lennon records feature. Tillman’s voice is excellent, as it has been on all of his releases, haunting at times, always clear.
The man is ridiculous in many ways though – just read any of his interviews – to the point where you feel he endangers his own credibility as a musician by being such a controversy magnet (even in his music at times he’s tried it, with his Taylor Swift mention at the start of “Total Entertainment Forever”). But when an album sounds this lush, with such beautiful orchestration and arch asides, sung beautifully, you have to forgive him that and just admire.
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Favourite track: “Pure Comedy”
Future Islands | The Far Field (4AD) | Rated: 8.5
Having three well received synth-romance-pop albums under their belt, Future Islands found a new level of fame following a typically enthusiastic live performance on Letterman in 2014. The band’s album Seasons became a staple for any self-respecting music fan, and Future Islands toured it extensively, including an expressive and high-energy Glastonbury set in 2015.
While The Far Field feels very similar to their previous effort, this album seems even more complete, a band in their pomp. Samuel T. Herring’s singing and howls, 80s style synths and heartfelt lyrics make this an entertaining, engaging record. There isn’t as obvious a stand out as “Seasons (Waiting on You)”, but there isn’t a track on here that makes you reach for the skip button.
“And what’s a song without you?
When every song I write is about you
When I can’t hold myself without you
And I can’t change the day I found you”
Reading the lyrics above, without the music, it might almost be sickeningly saccharine sweet, but it’s Herring’s delivery which lifts the album away from being cheesy. You really believe that he feels this. Having seen the band perform, it’s clear that he feels it. You will too – and you might even be unable to stop yourself from dancing as well.
Favourite track: “Beauty Of The Road”
The New Pornographers | Whiteout Conditions (Collected Works) | Rated: 8
The super-group’s seventh album is full of entertainment and energy, exemplified in the first track with the 80s pop staple blare of synths. You almost want to put a montage over it. But it’s great. The record, despite it’s frenetic speed and pop sensibilities, does have weight. Title track “Whiteout Conditions” is about a depressive episode, and is evocative:
“Only want to get to work
But every morning I’m too sick to drive
Suffering whiteout conditions”
The record proceeds at a breakneck speed (perfect for running with!) pretty much the whole way through. Imagining it live, you know that it’d be knackering to watch them. Tracks like “High Ticket Attractions” display the best of Newman and Neko Case’s vocal performance. It’s what Arcade Fire could sound like if they didn’t take themselves so seriously, with lyrics about living underwater and the Mayans.
Very few records are as fast as this album, or as infectious. Try listening to “Avalanche Alley” and going for a run. It’ll end up being your personal best.
Favourite track: “Play Money”
San Fermin | Belong (Downtown Records) | Rated 7.5
Belong is the Brooklyn band’s third album, following their self-titled debut and sophomore effort Jackrabbit. Band leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone proves capable of some brilliant composition. The saxophone on “Better Company”, for example, is incredible, giving real urgency to the track and “Bride” shows an ability to put together a power-pop epic.
Comparisons of Allen Tate’s voice with The National’s Matt Berninger should be no more, he almost sounds like a different person. Through initial listens the tracks where Charlene Kaye takes the vocal lead grab the listener’s attention, after repeated listens, it’s in the very personal moments with Tate singing, like on title track “Belong”, that the album is more affecting.
Some songs feel like an attempt to sound like people the band members clearly admire; Dirty Projectors on several occasions and St Vincent at points on “Dead” or HAIM on “No Promises”. It’s when the band sounds most like themselves, forging their own path, that they’re at their most listenable, as on “Better Company”.
Favourite track: “Better Company”
New Tracks of The Week
Gorillaz (feat Mavis Staples and Pusha T): “Let Me Out” – the sixth release from the digital Damon Albarn side project. Features legend Mavis Staples (after appearing on Arcade Fire and Benjamin Booker tracks in the past few months) and Pusha T.
Feist (feat Jarvis Cocker): “Century” – In her second release from her upcoming album, Feist hands over to Jarvis Cocker three quarters of the way through an up-tempo rock track, where he (as with Room 29) gives a spoken word interlude.
Nite Jewel: “The Answer” – Retro, synth-heavy, electro-R&B full of 90s influences. Nite Jewel’s second promising track ahead of fourth record Real High.
And here’s the full Picks of the Week Playlist from Reaction