ALBUM REVIEW: Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Released: 08.04.22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sampson has cut his hair. Though his beard grows on, Josh Tillman has lost the cascading locks and tinted shades. His fifth studio album, Chloë And The Next 20th Century, follows the demythologising started on God’s Favourite Customer. His characteristic self-mystification continues – he is still ‘Father John Misty’, but he has lost the self-absorbed Weltschmertz of his older work. He has lost his hair, but not his strength.

Tillman’s new album relaxes into symphonic cruise control, allowing the string section to easefully wheel and fall and indulging Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet and Dan Higgins’ sax. Tasteful jazz piano trickles beneath folky finger-style guitar whilst Tillman’s smooth vocals command the dance.

The wit remains. Rolling piano and ballroom string-arrangements in Chloe accompany “her soul is a pitch-black expanse”. The incongruity of lyrics and music is funny and self-aware, as is the Sinatrian closing line: “took a leap into Autumn’s Leaves”.

The album is underpinned by nostalgia and future uncertainty. “Don’t the last time come too soon”, he asks in Goodbye Mr Blue, and marinades it in JJ Cale-esque country guitar twangs. Romance and existence tussle throughout. Kiss Me (I Loved You), with its wobbly vocals is hopeful but dressed in melancholic tones.

The tension between past and future is reflected in the title – The Next 20th Century. How does that even work? This duality matches the album’s stylistic shift. Q4 thumps in with its upbeat rhythm and theatrical orchestral jangle, before the bossa nova of Olvidado (Otro Momento). Funny Girl gets cinematic and slightly absurd; Tillman comments “you’re young baby but you’re not getting any younger”. Only A Fool sustains this cinematicism, cartoony in instrumentals and croony in vocals. This is 50s America now.

But we’re left chin-scratching; the atmospheric, unsettling closing track The Next 20th Century shows Tillman’s romantic yearnings taking a hostile shape. The guitar goes into overdrive, the rhythm is tango-like and the uncertainty becomes existential: “everything’s in transition, everything must change” but “things keep getting worse while staying eerily the same”. Maybe Tillman’s message isn’t as hopeful as we thought: “come build your burial grounds on our burial grounds …you won’t kill death that way”.

Tillman is elusive as usual. But the main message is pretty simple: “no one is really better off alone” and this inclusive, playful and connective album proves it.

 

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