Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century Review

Touching the work of Father John Misty is, it will never capitalise on the baroque pop and avant-garde genre blend he has listed himself under. God’s Favourite Customer was an exceptional realisation of artsy music videos with strong, albeit wavering messages accompanied by strong vocals and stronger instrumentals to power it. Misty’s latest album, Chloë and the Next 20th Century marks not a new turn in form but a continuation of ideas that worked the first time around. An expansion of fitting, delicate ideas and genuine, heartfelt attempts at corroborating the old-timey aesthetics with new tracks. That pairing far exceeds the understated genre blend Misty has detailed for himself, and that much is proven in brief glimmers throughout this latest release.

Jaunty opener Chloë gives a forgettable but mood-setting accompaniment. Aesthetics are clear throughout for Misty, whose hope is this enshrinement of cheerful tracks with brooding undertones. Chirpy and emotive tones from Goodbye Mr. Blue feel distant enough to apply to early country albums, more because of the light poetry that touches John Tillman’s lyrical work and the wispy voice that follows than anything else. An acoustic backing certainly helps. Kiss Me is another track that sets the tone of the album well but offers nothing in the way of grand progress. If anything, the slower and warbling effects of this track provide a step back from what God’s Favourite Customer was gunning for.

But Chloë and the Next 20th Century is a different breed to that of Misty’s previous work. Tillman embodies the slower, contemplative tracks well, it is just a shame they aren’t producing magnificent lyrical pieces. It is reflective and crashes through the memories of good times never had or felt again and while that is hard to replicate across an entire album, it does not mean the hard work and effort are necessarily worth it. No track is either noticeably bad or exceptionally good. These are cabaret pop riffs looking for a place in the past, but the future has moved far, far on. It makes Misty’s work here look intentionally old hat, which is certainly the intention if the aesthetics are to be believed, but aesthetic or not, it is still in the past. Far behind the work previously offered by this singer.

Tillman said Chloë and the Next 20th Century is “altered” on a second run-through. That is true, although the intention of this “altered” state will leave little more than a second run-through of unaltered 1950s lounge pop. Slower in pace, sombre at times (Buddy’s Rendezvous serves as a perfect example) but never reaching that emotional peak. Even then, the emotion comes not from Tillman’s lyrics but from the brief snippets of blues-inspired baroque on Buddy’s Rendezvous or the sudden shift in tone found on Q4. There are bursts of realisation throughout Chloë and the Next 20th Century, but nothing to top what Misty has accomplished so far. Art as risk is not always rewarding. Tillman has at least committed to this embrace of a new direction. It does not trump the beaten path nor is it a complete disaster. It inspires the mood Tillman is seemingly aiming for. When he gets there, he has little to say. A replicative success with no new note to play. 

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