In his 11th year producing music under the stage name “Father John Misty”, Josh Tillman has released his fifth LP, “Chloe and the Next 20th Century”. Let me say it’s quite a dazzling record! I’ve been listening to this guy since I was fifteen after his release “I Love You, Honeybear”. I can still recall playing “The Ideal Husband” on my drive to tenth grade and my mother turning down the volume and scoffing! But I digress… The whole record, like all of his work, is undeniably sultry and sexy in a philosophy-buff-slight-douchebag kind of way. I mean, dude has a record called “God’s Favorite Customer” (and a great one at that).
The record starts out with the song “Chloe”, telling the story of some unhinged woman- with jazz! Cool! I love songs that reference drugs that are no longer produced- as this song references “Benzedrine”- always a learning experience with this guy. Had to look that one up!
The song “Q4” honestly pisses me off. I can only stand so much harpsichord. This isn’t a renaissance faire. On the other hand- “Funny Girl” aka the first single? Great stuff! Incredible orchestration. Felt like I was in a dimly lit cigar smoke filled nightclub in the 40s. “Goodbye Mr. Blue” channels serious country vibes, finger-picking and all. Reminiscent of FJM’s early work i.e. “Fear Fun”. One of my favs from this release is “We Could Be Strangers”. It’s got an enticing bassline and an intriguing storyline, but did bro really have to call so many of us out with the refrain “no one’s really better off alone” ???????
I think “The Next 20th Century”, the finale of the record, is truly its shining star. But maybe that is just due to my bias for songs longer than 5 minutes with unexpected guitar shredding- is that Mr. Misty himself delivering the shredding? It’s a great one, though; cynical yet hopeful, depressing and human, a real Father John Misty classic.
This record has quite a few references to historically significant places and people that I am not familiar with which makes me feel stupid. It’s like all the mythology references in Sufjan Stevens’ songs. Do I need to read more books to fully listen to and enjoy these musicians? That’s asking a lot.
My favorite thing about FJM’s music has always been his poignant and poetic lyricism. The Next 20th Century line, “Now things keep getting worse while staying so eerily the same”, followed up with “I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the love songs, If this century’s here to say. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the love songs, and the great distance that they came” echoes the general sentiment of all of his work, but particularly his 2017 release Pure Comedy (a fantastic one!). He ends the song “Pure Comedy” with “The only thing that they request is something to numb the pain with until there’s nothing human left. Just random matter-suspended in the dark. I hate to say it, but each other’s all we’ve got”. It’s a rejection of nihilism and a turn toward love. <3 How badass is it that we can manipulate vibrations in the air and arrange language to create emotional resonance with strangers.