Father John Misty's 'Chloë and the Next 20th Century' Is Easy to Enjoy and Easier to Ignore

BY Alex HudsonPublished Apr 12, 2022

"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. Many of the lyrics display Tillman's signature wit, but his targets here aren't as clearly defined as on past works; he takes some potshots at the entertainment industry and has a bit of a doomed outlook on love, but there aren't any of the scathing one-liners of past highlights.

In lieu of memorable lyrics, the main takeaway on Chloë is the sonic palette, which borrows from Old Hollywood grandeur, slathering strings on top of songs that touch on swing ("Chloë"), graceful '60s folk ("Goodbye Mr. Blue") and bossa nova ("Olvidado (Otro Momento)").

Tillman has previously written for enormous pop artists like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Post Malone, but here he downplays the hooks in favour of what feels like a stylistic exercise in retro crooning and Pixar movie orchestrations. The relentless maximalism grows exhausting over the course of 50 minutes — to the point where the Renaissance harpsichord of "Q4," heavy vocal tremolo of "Kiss Me (I Loved You)" or smoothly purring sax of "Buddy's Rendezvous" barely register. "Funny Girl" is the closest thing here to a traditional FJM song, but its parody of Hollywood superficiality is only skin deep, never really getting beyond references to Letterman and a joke about "the new live-action Cathy." Ack!

Just when it seems like the album might barely make an impression at all, Chloë ends with "The Next 20th Century," a brooding seven-minute epic with foreboding chord changes and an absolutely thrilling guitar solo. With guitar fuzz and clacking castanets clashing beautifully with a canned drum machine and booming brass, it's a sit-up-and-take-notice moment in an album that's easy to enjoy but even easier to ignore.
(Sub Pop)

Latest Coverage