Album Review: Chloe and the Next 20th Century by Father John Misty
Fairly Good, Based on 5 Critics
Under The Radar - 75 Based on rating 7.5/10
Before adopting his loveably irreverent alter ego Father John Misty, Josh Tillman was a bare bones folk doomer, a relatively unknown Fleet Foxes sideman writing dreary albums with morbid titles such as Cancer and Delirium and generally not having a very good time. As Father John Misty, he's transformed into one of the most unique voices in modern music, balancing his personal bloodletting with acerbic wit and social observations both sharp and humorous, sometimes even downright funny. It was an inherently theatrical transition too; from a chair-core nothing-but-an-acoustic-guitar to serenading audiences while dancing as though an octopus in a washing machine.
These songs are bound together by their musical arrangements, presented as rightful heirs to a lost catalogue of great American songwriting Josh Tillman's fifth album as Father John Misty is a rather more enigmatic offering than his previous four. Although the Misty stage name might be a front, it has never felt like a veil: Tillman has rarely shied away from heartfelt lyrics, warts and all auto-portraiture and the occasional smattering of self-mockery. From the LA acid trip of his debut Father John Misty album, Fear Fun (2012) via the devastating marital love letter of I Love You, Honeybear (2015) and the existential chamber pop of Pure Comedy (2017) to the hotel room breakdown of God's Favorite Customer (2018), Tillman has always bared heart, soul and mind.
"This ironic distance kept her sane," sings Father John Misty on "Q4" -- the words of a man who certainly knows a thing or two about maintaining an ironic distance. For five albums now, the songwriter born Joshua Tillman has been the nihilistic jester of indie folk, sweetly crooning comedic takedowns of love, heartbreak and the human race.
He can be totally charming or gratingly smug -- the former if his scorn is directed inward (as on 2015's I Love You, Honeybear) and the latter if directed outward (2017's Pure Comedy).
Chloë and the Next 20th Century isn't likely to inspire such strong reactions. It's opulent and immaculately composed but lacks the strong perspective that's usually central to FJM's work.
Like most of those now-historic conversations, that all feels pretty dumb now. Father John Misty made four great albums, filled with songs filled with the kind of lyricism which filled most of his peers with envy, and sung in an angelic voice. After a four year break, there is now a more relevant question when it come's to Tillman's music: do you like Harry Nilsson? More specifically, do you like Harry Nilsson's album A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night? Bizarrely, that 1973 record of covers seems to be a near singular influence on this record.
"The more they abhore you, the more I adore you," croons Josh Tillman in the opening showtune 'Chloë' from his fifth album as Father John Misty. Dripping in old hollywood glitz and glamour, Chloë sets the theatrical tone of the album, which sees Tillman and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson resume their long-term collaboration. Drawing from references throughout the last 100 years, they create an entrancing world in which time and genre are ever changing but there is one constant - Chloë.