Father John Misty
Chloë and the Next 20th Century
Since his start as J. Tillman, Father John Misty has incrementally eked his way toward the cosmopolitan, with each album something more ecumenical and richly comported than the one before it. To that goal, his latest, Chloë and the Next 20th Century, is a record so layered, lush, calming, and dulcet, you almost forget just how snide Tillman’s lyrics tend to be. Taking that usual crusty wit into account, and combining it with a slew of excitable oddballs character-studied to icy perfection and placed behind the curtain of palm tree–lined orchestration, what you get is something closer to 1955’s Noël Coward at Las Vegas than the erudite rocking Misty last revealed on 2018's God's Favorite Customer.
Blessed by having its brass, strings, and woodwinds recorded in sessions at United Recordings—famously home to the intricately spun Beach Boys albums Pet Sounds and Smile—there’s a patina of beatdown Los Angeleno stardust and abiding Hollywood magic before the first strident strains of opener “Chloë” unfurl. Tamping his clamped-down bite to a gentle nip, the teary lounge bounce of “Buddy’s Rendezvous” makes light of his own losses as well as those of the bar’s boozy habitues. A similar saloon-jazz feel—with an added spectral cinematic wash—affects “Funny Girl” and its romancing (and missing the mark, again) of a certain beloved comedian who “charmed the pants off Letterman” once upon a time.
There’s another losing tale, this time about a doomed couple huddling around a dead cat on what sounds like an interpolation of Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” There’s a bossa nova tune, “Olvidado (Otro Momento),” a splashy kitsch tale about book and film rights, while “Q4” could make the Didion/Dunne fam blush. All of this clenched-teeth, wiry wit and opulent orchestration—to say nothing of FJM’s clarion croon—show the writer and singer in finest fettle. There’s just one question: For all of its eccentric actors and crowded house-of-cards dramatics, where is Chloë going? I fear nowhere. And that may be the sole (or soul) failing of this new album—that for all of its intricacies and folderol, this Misty may be just too much for his own good.