Chloë and the Next 20th Century review | Father John Misty’s satisfying, incomplete charm

Father John Misty (aka Joshua Tillman) demonstrates his usual brilliance, but this time in patches. Perhaps this latest effort is a bridge to something riskier.

father john misty


Father John Misty (aka Joshua Tillman) demonstrates his usual brilliance, but this time in patches. This latest effort feels like a bridge to something riskier that’s in the works.

Josh Tillman’s new album plumbs new, satisfying depths, but can’t quite maintain total charm throughout. In Chloë and the 20th Century, we hear Father John Misty in his most experimental, risk-taking mood, with no sacrificed quality, it’s just a shame the form it takes is somewhat ‘lite’. 

Undoubtedly though, it’s new. It’s fresh. And it’s almost something. There’s a whole catalogue of ‘almosts’ that Tillman notches onto this album’s roll call. It’s almost a musical OST, without the film (most prominently in the opening ‘Chloë’). It’s almost a polemic against modern society (in the ambitious ‘The Next 20th Century’) and the typical American novelist’s languid publication cycle (throughout the amusing ‘Q4’). It’s almost an ode to the classic lost love album from the Jim Croce or Harry Nilsson school (in the brilliant ‘Buddy’s Rendezvous’, the record’s apex).

It also almost tells us something, something Tillman wants us to know whilst refusing to be anything but oblique (which I respect enormously, we can’t and shouldn’t be universally gratified and informed by the artist). However, the entertaining songs’ stories aren’t duly compensated by a potent musical backing that many flawless records could confidently forefront, even with muted vocals. Tillman’s seven-piece band are in the right places at all the right times, but there are too few opportunities for them to venture and to dazzle. One of these moments is to be cherished though, in the concluding ‘The Next 20th Century’ and its bawling guitar solo. 

For the album’s release, Tillman chose to keep the fanfare to a minimum, consigning himself to just one live European date for the entirety of the year. This was yesterday, on Thursday 7th April, in the Barbican Centre, London. A seated, relatively intimate affair, chartered by Britten Sinfonia, a 35-piece chamber orchestra from Cambridge, in a comfortable canter of a performance. 

Complementing their efforts was a relaxed Josh Tillman, who seldom interacted with the audience with much enthusiasm or danced with the gusto deployed with his usual, swayed movements. Just like the album’s lyrics, this performance often felt restrained when the new material was sampled (which even Tillman admitted is ‘a lot of new music’ to digest in one sitting), but staple songs such as ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ and ‘Nancy From Now On’ effortlessly pushed the right buttons, until it felt natural to oblige when Tillman invited the audience to stand. In fairness, it’s likely Tillman was simply lacking confidence presenting a new album’s worth of material to a patient, discerning London audience. 

What cannot be denied about either Father John Misty’s live Barbican performance or the one in the studio when Chloë and the Next 20th Century was recorded, is their quality. Father John Misty is an act that’s routinely spoiled us for a decade with brilliant songwriting saturated with pain, wisdom, and longing ever since Fear Fun. By his own standard, 2022’s release isn’t his best work, but it’s a noteworthy one for any Father John Misty fan and all souls who appreciate a true musical auteur like Joshua Tillman.

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