Review: Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century

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By Jacob Rozenberg, First Year English

Jacob Rozenberg reviews Father John Misty's latest effort.

Father John Misty is a tricky artist to cover. Many music aficionados revel in the skillfulness and (arguable) adroitness of Josh Tillman’s lyrics, the allusions to classic albums of the 70s and the swooning of his piano ballads. Others don’t. Principally, this reviewer - who cares considerably more for Tillman’s earlier, folkier material. His much-heralded magnum opus, 2017’s ‘Pure Comedy’, felt too insincere, indirect and drawn-out compared to his first two records ‘Fear Fun’ and ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. Prior to ‘Chloë’, Tillman’s most recent record ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ failed to leave much of an impression on me.

That all said, it’s been quite some time since God’s ‘Favourite Customer’, and Tillman has adapted his sound accordingly. While ‘Pure Comedy’ came out against the backdrop of the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and was hailed by critics as Tillman’s social critique record, ‘Chloë’ is an album of stylistic, nostalgic escapism. Tracks like ‘Goodbye Mr. Blue’ recalls the work of Harry Nillson, more specifically his song ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ - made famous through the film Midnight Cowboy - while ‘Olvidado (Otro Momento)’ appears to take much of its sound from bossa nova. The former of these is perhaps the record’s standout track - the reignition of a failing relationship through the loss of a dead cat - it’s classic Father John.

The sounds of Broadway also carry throughout the record, most explicitly on ‘Funny Girl’, where Tillman indicates a certain infatuation with an unnamed star. It sounds pleasing enough to the ears, but like most of Father John Misty’s work, is frustrating in its opaqueness and apparent lack of emotional vulnerability. Tillman’s lyrical scope in ‘The Next 20th Century’ doesn’t so much lack character as much as it lacks any poignant images to hold on to. While the songwriter namedrops the Nazis, Val Kilmer and the bardo, his scores of metaphors and war-torn imagery feel more to me like barriers Father John Misty imposes to avoid revealing too much of himself than the impactful poetry some fans cherish.

Other tracks on the record follow in a similar vein, like ‘Q4’ where Misty’s orchestration makes for a satisfying listen, but hardly an enticing one. Unlike, say, John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’, a largely piano-centred album that shares the orchestration and literary themes of ‘Q4’, there just doesn’t appear to be enough sincerity in Misty’s voice to make his more heartfelt songs register with the listener.

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Even despite the variation in these genre musings that Tillman offers us ‘Chloë’ does not flourish into a revelatory project. Instead, it leaves me longing for the Tillman that wrote ‘Nancy from Now On’ and ‘I’m Writing a Novel’ rather than what Father John Misty might have in store for us in a few years' time.

Featured image: Bella Union


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