Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century Music Album Reviews

Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century Music Album Reviews
Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman reaches far, far back to the golden age of Hollywood for a dreamy, lushly orchestrated, wryly comic collection of vignettes that all depend upon the timelessness of a love song.

Two things recur with peculiar frequency around Father John Misty: films and dreams. You’ve heard his wife Emma is a filmmaker; or you might recall that wild story he made up about the time Lou Reed appeared to him in a dream; or you’ll remember his songs, the way the Warner Bros. logo looms over “Leaving LA.” Like David Lynch, Josh Tillman dreams in absurdity, a glamorously mundane world populated by seedy characters hidden beneath the surface. This is the Misty land, the dreamscape, and everyone who encounters his work crosses into it, consciously or not. He’s the folk singer for these times because the aura of unreality follows him around like a stench.

Anyway, here we have Chloë and the Next 20th Century, from the mind of an auteur who specializes in oneiric theory and mid-century film scores. His latest album is another collection of story-song vignettes arrayed in loose opposition to the pointless absurdity of modern society; or it’s an elaborate study in the life of a sad sack helplessly ensnared in doomed romances with a whole series of women, starting with Chloë, an unfeeling socialite whose previous boyfriend met a mysterious end in the first of, by my count, six tragic deaths in 51 minutes; or it was a dream all along.

What Chloë looks like, though, is a film. The old-timey opening credits roll for five minutes in the “Q4” video, but the action never begins. There are uncredited cameos: You can read “Funny Girl” like a blind item about Drew Barrymore from the perspective of a delusional fan, and in my mind the umlaut hovers over the image of another generationally famous Chloë, Sevigny. From the first sour trumpet, Misty is working overtime to entertain, tapping into a strain of golden age Hollywood jazz and swing that feels at first like a ludicrous posture for a folk-rock star. Few in our present era of obsessively nostalgic pop have dug all the way back to mid-century big band orchestration and jazz crooners like Johnny Mathis and Chet Baker. Misty looks here because it represents the period when movies were the most advanced and important popular multimedia form—easier than writing for the metaverse, in any case, and just as transportive.

Still, it’s a record, so you’ll have to watch in the dim theater of your own mind. The new album shares a number of themes with 2017’s Pure Comedy, Misty’s last great throwing-up-of-hands, but instead of manifestos and literalism, Chloë has the amnesiac effect of a film without phones or calendars. It feels designed to age well because it sounds a bit ageless, trimming back the earlier album’s instrumental interludes and replacing its curdled, Trump-scented atmosphere with melodies and stories of no era in particular. From this point, things get slippery: There’s no clear narrative, and the stories are riddled with innuendo and unanswered questions. In place of Pure Comedy’s logorrhea, Chloë suggests the framework of an ambitious novel: Perhaps the story begins with the wedding band of wooly closer “The Next 20th Century,” and ends, 11 songs earlier, as poor Chloë leaps off a balcony.

But Chloë is ultimately a background character, more like a concept, a sometime foil and frequent obsession for our determinedly dislikeable leading man. The narrator never gives a name, though he shares a few habits with someone we’ve met before, such as a tendency to save the big reveal for the final stanza, or to express some genuinely affecting sentiment like, “Love’s much less a mystery/Than who you give it to,” and subsequently make a pass at a celebrity. In “Funny Girl,” he falls for a comedian: She’s barely over five feet tall, a vivacious interviewee who once “charmed the pants off Letterman.” Convinced she returns his affections, he asks her to meet and arrives at the appointed time, but she’s nowhere to be found; it’s not clear she ever knew he existed.

Most songs share a similar tenor: pompous and sordid and really terrifically campy. If you subscribe to the narrator’s continuity, you’ll also have to accept that the guy who’s filching Chloë’s pills and stalking talk show guests is the same one singing “Kiss Me (I Loved You)” and cradling his dying cat in “Goodbye Mr. Blue,” easily the saddest death of them all. The pleasure of making his acquaintance is a sensation between schadenfreude and pity, and Misty knows it, because he writes the “Glory Days” scene right in, on a bitter dive bar weeper called “Buddy’s Rendezvous,” as in, “I’m at Buddy's Rendezvous/Telling the losers and old timers/How good I did with you/They almost believe me, too.”

Look closer: Nothing about the Chloë story adds up. The album is full of unfinished arcs, open questions that could turn the ship in an entirely new direction if only someone were steering. On “Olvidado (Otro Momento),” when Misty starts singing bossa nova in Spanish and not Portuguese—where are we? The unhappy couple killed en route to a one-night stand on “We Could Be Strangers”—who were they? And what did he say happened to Chloë’s last boyfriend—were we ever sure? Give the record half an ear and the stories are a little too clever and intricate to register; devote full attention and their meanings start to evaporate because there’s nothing solid there either. This isn’t the structure of a script but the logic of a dream.

Except for “Q4,” when we briefly wake up to reality, maybe. It’s the album’s most self-contained episode, the only one you couldn’t call a love song: a scandalous story of an author who steals the life story of her late sister as fodder for her own new “semi-memoir.” If the peacocking instrumental is a little over the top, it’s befitting of these characters’ preening attitudes. “It was just the thing for their Q4/‘Deeply funny’ was the rave refrain,” Misty crows, a fictional plagiarized bestseller standing in for a whole history of tension between art and commerce. “What’s ‘deeply funny’ mean anyhow?” he asks the next time the chorus comes around, and then, later, tosses out another of those lines that threaten to give up the whole charade: “The film adaptation was a total mess.”

It can feel like Misty is in danger of spinning out, but for most of the album, what’s so impressive is the subtlety of his control. The band—including frequent collaborators Drew Erickson and Jonathan Wilson, plus a string quartet and eleven orchestra members—play with silvery poise and high drama. The characters may be odious and dissolute, but the way Misty sings about them is delightful, from the debonair delivery of “Chloë” to the little retro-microphone vibrato that creeps into “Kiss Me.” “Only a Fool” plays like an aspiring songbook standard, its timeless romantic premise flirting with the sly, overeducated Tillman setup: “The wisdom of the ages/From Gita to Abraham/Was written by smitten, lonely sages/Too wise to ever take a chance.” He’s no longer the oldest man in folk rock but the youngest lounge singer in 1950s California.

But like a big Hollywood production, what’s sparkle and pizazz on camera is pain and doubt behind the scenes. The playfulness dissolves with album closer “The Next 20th Century,” a moody, hallucinatory dirge that slinks through the shadow of Leonard Cohen’s “Death of a Ladies’ Man” with the gimlet eye of Howard Hughes in an empty theater. We’ve finally reached the perspective of the viewer and it’s not looking good: Oppression looms like original sin and love pays “for like a thousand different wars.” “And now things keep getting worse while staying so eerily the same,” Misty croons, spinning a karmic wheel and landing on the creeping suspicion that the next 20th century is this one. He’s come, jeembles and all, to ask if entertainment is the best sustenance we have left, and for the first time, he says yes. “I’ll take the love songs/And give you the future in exchange,” he offers, not too generously. It’s a familiar idea from Misty’s past songs, that in the last analysis we have only each other, and perhaps music, but it feels more hopeless somehow, here at the end of this modern relic of an album with no happy love songs at all. The past is irretrievable, the present wasted, the future doesn’t exist: onward to the dreamland.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century Music Album Reviews Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on April 16, 2022 Rating: 5


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