Father John Misty sung his way onto my radar in late 2015 thanks to the first season of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Netflix series Master of None, in which the crooner was positioned as a New York underground sensation.
Fashioning myself (more aspirationally than actually) a connoisseur of all that’s artistically hip in the Big Apple, I decided to give Joshua Michael Tillman’s (the real side of Misty’s nom de plume) 2017 album, Pure Comedy, a spin (further proof of my aspirational as opposed to actual trendster credentials: it came out in April, and I’m only getting around to it now; better late than never!).
My Twitter-sized takeaway: he churns out hipster versions of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Paul Simon’s ballads, listed in descending order of influence.
Everything from his voice to the structure of his compositions owes quite a bit to these three titans. He differentiates himself through his bizarrely esoteric lyrics and his unwavering commitment to slow jams instead of the more upbeat tracks popularly-associated with Joel and John.
Though they’re impressive company to keep – and Misty’s talent is undeniably impressive (well, I guess Ryan Adam once denied it, whose 2017 album I still need to get around to. Again: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER) – his music walks the uneasy line between endearing homage and cheap derivation. Though his output skews more towards the former – perhaps because it’s just refreshing to hear new music by someone reminiscent of the Piano Man since the original is too busy at Madison Square Garden every month to write anything – Misty’s tightrope-dance above the holy waters of ingenuity and treacherous ruins of unoriginality speaks to the entire state of the music industry today.
In a post-modern age where being self-referential is the name of the game, and in a landscape currently populated by remixes and samples, should we as a culture still value the distinctness of artists? Put another way, does Pure Comedy deserve praise or criticism for so palpably calling to mind the oeuvres of other musicians?
There may not be resolute answers to these ponderous queries, but I urge myself and everyone else to keep them in mind when our knee-jerk evaluations of contemporary music may lead us to label it all as cheap ripoffs…