Josh Tillman is the kind of musician who talks and talks—in on-stage tirades about the liberal listener’s complicity in Donald Trump’s rise, in LSD-touched interviews about why he left Fleet Foxes to be a solo singer, and on his apocalyptic new Father John Misty album, Pure Comedy, whose lyrics work just fine when read in essay format. It might, then, sound a little harsh to finger the best song on that album as the one where he finally shuts up. But the simple truth is that the last half of the nine-minute “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” when his voice drops out and distorted guitars lurch across the terrain, is magnificent—one of the best music moments of the year so far.
The first half of the song is pretty great too, with Tillman strumming gingerly and singing slowly, stretching the memory of a killer party into an ageless eternity on “magic mountain.” It’s a fantasy that rejects mortality much as rock music—and religion—always has. And it’s tribute to how the imagination can offer an escape from bummer realities.
The song stands out on Pure Comedy because otherwise the album is concerned with reminding the listener of those bummer realities—death, injustice, human vanity, the likely randomness of the universe—with the insistence and slack insight of an AP History ace who’s just stumbled across Stephen Fry’s denunciation of God on his Facebook feed. Pure Comedy’s lyrics seem designed to be dissected as a provocative statement: There are explicit references to Taylor Swift (as a virtual-reality sex object in Tillman’s imagined future) and implicit references to politics (“Who are these goons they elected to rule them?” one of his narrators wonders about humanity). But the album is mostly a statement of the obvious, all answers and no questions, lacking mystery and fashionably sure of its own nihilism.